UPDATED: Aug 21, 2020
It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right coverage choices.
Advertiser Disclosure: We strive to help you make confident insurance decisions. Comparison shopping should be easy. We partner with top insurance providers. This doesn't influence our content. Our opinions are our own.
Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about auto insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything auto insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by auto insurance experts.
A total loss in auto insurance is a phrase that is applied to the case when an insured vehicle is so badly damaged that it cannot be repaired economically under the terms of the policy. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the vehicle is a complete write off, it just means that the policy’s coverage for the repair bill is less than the cost of the work and the replacement cost of the vehicle (after depreciation has been factored in) at which point the insurer will pay out the replacement vehicle cost under the policy rather than pursue the repair option.
Depending on your coverage the insurance company may also factor into the equation the cost of a rental car, so if your repairs are going to take a long time even if the repair bill is lower than the total loss figure – the costs of providing you with a hire car in the interim, may leave the insurer to decide that it’s not worth pursuing the repair and instead they will pay out the replacement cost of the vehicle.
How Does Total Loss Work?
In some instances (particularly with older models) it may be that the car is not severely damaged when a total loss is applied to it, and while it may be uneconomic for the insurer to pay for repairs the policyholder may choose to pay an additional amount on top of the replacement cost benefit provided by their insurance company, to get it back on the road. In this instance, a government inspection will be required to ensure that the vehicle is restored to good working use, prior to the vehicle returning to the roads. Car owners who choose this route should remember that it is not the government inspector’s job to verify the quality of any repairs undertaken, only to ensure that the vehicle is roadworthy.
Many states have a strictly defined damaged limit that may be applied to cars and other vehicles that are considered to be a total loss. If your vehicle is past this threshold then the state or provincial government will normally require that the vehicle is dismantled at an auto wrecker, broken up for parts or even scrapped entirely. In this instance, the insured party is left with the replacement cost as defined in their policy to purchase a similar vehicle, and they may not attempt to repair the vehicle and return it to road use.