I can never decide if I’m a very lucky person or a sucker. Like all of us, I’ve carried car insurance for years and really only had to use it twice. In one case, my Ford Taurus should have been totaled and wasn’t. It died a horrible death within a year. (For one thing, the engine mount worked off and every time I hit the brake the hood bounced open.) The other occasion was a simple fender bender.
Right now I’m driving a six-year old Honda Odyssey. It’s paid for and has super low mileage. I intend to drive it until the wheels fall off and I’m not alone. The fleet of cars on America’s roadways is aging. On average the cars around you on the highway and at the stoplight are ten years old. People simply cannot afford car payments and insurance too.
Unfortunately, in the event of an accident, your vehicle is far more likely to be totaled because that’s the cheapest way for the insurer to go, which leaves you in the lurch. You’ve received much less than you believe your car is worth and not enough to replace it.
In deciding whether or not to total a car, the company will look at the value of the given make and model in the area, how much parts and labor will cost, and what pricing services say about the car’s worth in a broader sense. When they run the math, you generally get pennies on the dollar.
Can you do anything to fight? Yes. Generally just protesting the offer will win you a few hundred dollars more. Beyond that, you can make a case for a higher value with pricing guides of your own and local ads for similar vehicles (with similar features) for sale. In the end, however, the court of last resort for most consumers is to agree to a mediated appraisal of the vehicle, with the appraisers value being locked in stone.
Bottom line: Good driving, avoiding accidents, and driving defensively is more important than ever. Get in a wreck and you will most likely be kissing your current ride good-bye.