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Filing A Totaled-Car Claim With Your USAA Car Insurance: A Step-by-Step Guide

usaa family

License: Royalty Free or iStock source: Image courtesy of USAA

If your vehicle is covered by USAA car insurance and winds up a totaled car due to a collision or other covered incident, there are a number of steps you should take. One of the most important things for the insured, as with most insurance issues, is documentation. So as soon as you are safe and ready to start the process, begin by gathering all the information about the incident and your car that you can. It will be especially important to have a benchmark of the condition of your car prior to the incident.

Step 1 – Deal with the totaled car

Immediately after the accident, inform your USAA representative about the accident and get the claims process started. If you were involved in a driving-related collision, chances are that there will be other issues to deal with such as filing police reports and attending to any related injuries. It’s a good bet your car will be towed from the scene of any accident.

If the damage is caused by some other incident such as a flood or severe weather (or even a tree falling on it in your driveway) a USAA claims specialist will either come directly to the scene to begin investigations and start the claims review process, or arrange to have a pre-approved tow or repair shop remove the vehicle to a site where this inspection can occur.

If your plan includes a rental reimbursement option with USAA, this will also be a good time to get USAA’s approval for a rental car and obtain that rental so you can go on about your business.

Step 2 – Determine repair/restoration costs

old-car

(Image by Flickr user jeminke, used under Creative Commons license)

The entire basis for determining if your car is a total loss stems from determining how much it will cost to repair or restore it. If your car was towed from the scene of an accident, don’t be surprised if your USAA representatives have it towed to another facility. USAA relies on pre-approved repair and appraisal shops to make determinations of how much repair and restoration work will cost. It will be these estimates that start the process in evaluating whether to label your car a total loss in the aftermath of an accident.

If you have a mechanic or repair shop you trust and rely on, you can have that shop offer an official estimate for what repairs will cost. Fully repaired or restored is a loose term in many instances, but you should know that there are some states that have set minimum safety standards for how cars damaged in an accident should be repaired to be able to get back on the road. With an official estimate for repairs in hand, you’ll quickly move along to the next phase.

Step 3 – Determination of a total loss

classic-cars

Vintage Cars – Flikr Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/

Most insurance companies deem a vehicle a “total loss” if repair costs exceed a certain percentage of the determination of the car’s cash or current market value. For many companies, this can be as low as 51 percent. There are also some states that set a minimum safety standard for cars returning to the roadways after an accident and an insurance company may also weigh the cost for restoring a damaged car to that standard against what the current market or Actual Cash Value of the insured car is.

Car insurance companies and claims officers will work to give you as little as possible for your totaled car. That’s their job. But with documentation of the value put into it and of comparable vehicles with similar specifications that were recently sold in your area, you can often negotiate a much higher value. It is essential to have documentation to back up your claim, and to compare this to the sheet they use to determine value so you can make your case.

Step 4 – Determine value

Once you know how much the market says your car is worth, be ready to negotiate. This is an essential part of your claim because it determines that value of the claim, as agreed upon by you and USAA. This is also where it’s important to have read your USAA policy carefully. Look for something called an Appraisal Clause, and if you find one, follow those steps. If in the process you have to pay out-of-pocket for the cost of a third-party appraiser, you can still wind up splitting the cost of a mediator with USAA to ultimately decide the fair value of your claim.

One important factor to remember: whatever you finally agree to as a settlement amount for your totaled car, the sum will be reduced by the total amount of any and all deductibles that apply.

Step five – To accept or not to accept

older mercedes

Mercedes Benz 190SL. Creative Commons 2.0 (by-nc)

If your USAA car insurance representative informs you that they have declared your car totaled in the aftermath of a covered incident, you have a few options. You can:

  • Accept or negotiate-and-accept the settlement value and receive a cash payment for your totaled car from USAA
  • You can re-purchase your totaled car from the salvage yard and accept a payoff from USAA that equals the actual cash value less the salvage value of the vehicle
  • You can accept the cash settlement and have USAA work with you to forward it toward the purchase of a replacement vehicle

If you want to accept the settlement, remove all your belongings from the vehicle and authorize the repair shop holding it to release it to USAA, which will then claim title to the car and issue you a check.

If you want the car, there are a number of steps necessary to obtain it, and more still to get it back to ready to drive. Your USAA representative can assist you in each of those steps as well

(Note: this article is intended solely for informational purposes only and is in no way to be regarded as a promotion or solicitation. The author is in no way affiliated with USAA or any of its subsidiaries, nor is the author affiliated with any other insurance provider.)

Jeffrey Davidson

Jeffrey Davidson

Jeffrey Davidson is a writer and former marketing consultant with more than 25 years of experience working with insurance and financial planning and services companies. He currently writes about auto insurance products and services for Reply!. You can find his article on other approaches to car insurance.

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