'Totaled' Vehicle Value Disputes After a Car Accident

Even if you agree with the adjuster that the property should be totaled, you may disagree over how much you should be compensated for that loss.

You and an insurance adjuster may disagree over the actual cash value (ACV) of property. This could lead to a disagreement over whether the insurance company should pay the cost of repairing the property or total the property. Even if you agree with the adjuster that the property should be totaled, you may disagree over how much you should be compensated for that loss.

Actual Cash Value of Vehicles

A car or truck’s ACV is determined by comparing the current sale price of vehicles in your geographic area of a similar year, make, model, and condition. This comparison can be done in a couple of different ways.

First is by reference to the Kelley Blue Book, which is used by all car dealers and auto insurance workers, and is available at your local public ­library or online at www.kbb.com. The Blue Book is a good starting point for determining value, but it is not the only word on the subject. Other valuation methods may show that the Kelley price for your vehicle is too low.

For example, advertisements in area news­papers for a vehicle similar to yours may show a significantly higher price than in the Blue Book. Of course, the price for which a car is advertised is not usually the price at which it is actually sold, but if the advertised prices are consistently and considerably higher than the Blue Book prices, you can certainly use that fact to negotiate with the adjuster.

Additionally, special features of your vehicle may indicate a higher market value than that listed in the Blue Book. Your car might have had extra nonstandard equipment, or newly replaced and costly parts. Or it may have had very few miles on it given its age. Raise any of these factors with the adjuster to increase the valuation of your vehicle. You can demonstrate these factors by showing written proof of the repairs or added equipment, or by sending photos of the extras to the adjuster. (Learn more about disputes over vehicle valuation.)

Actual Cash Value of Other Vehicles and Property

Establishing the ACV of motorcycles, bicycles, and property that is not a car can be more difficult because there are no standard industry guides such as the Kelley Blue Book for automobiles.

The first step in demonstrating the value of the loss is to prove what the item was and that you had it in your possession. You can do that by providing identifying information about the item and a photo of it -- both before and after the accident, if possible. A receipt, credit card slip, or other proof of purchase identifies the item and establishes that you owned it.

Proof of the original purchase gives a starting price for its ACV. If you have such proof, it also establishes how old the item is, which affects current ACV; older means less value, unless it is the kind of item that maintains its value, such as jewelry or an antique.

The condition the item was in also affects ACV; a stained and worn leather coat is not as valuable as a clean, un-creased one. The adjuster may want to take a look at the actual item before deciding on its ACV.

Once you have established what the item is, what it originally cost, and what shape it was in, you will need to show the price for which people are selling the same used item. Classified ads of any sort -- for example, newspapers or computer bulletin boards or auctions -- may give an idea of the item’s current value. The price of a new replacement item may also be useful in determining ACV, particularly if your item was relatively new. If the item was almost new and its value does not diminish much with careful use -- a good camera, for example -- the price of a replacement item will give you a reasonable starting place at which to begin negotiating with the insurance company.

For more tips on getting your vehicle repaired the right way after a car accident -- and all the information you’ll need to navigate your case -- get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).

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