I Don’t Want my Car Totaled! How to Cope After an Accident

I usually restrict my blogging activities to matters of a more digital nature but I was recently hit by a clueless motorist and much to my shock and horror, the first thing out of practically everyone’s mouth was, “Oh yeah… That’s totaled…”

I’m going to walk you through the experience and provide you with some bullet points to remember should you find yourself in a similar situation. Provided you are not at fault, remember the following two words and get ready to use them frequently and with various levels of intensity: “That’s unacceptable.” Every time you hear something you don’t like, say it again… “That’s unacceptable.”

First things first, here’s the car I was desperately trying to save from some scrapyard because it was supposedly “totaled”:

2000 BMW 528iAT

Here’s the result of vehicular incompetence as exhibited by a driver in a Toyota 4×4:

2000 BMW 528iAT door damage

Basically what happened was this guy (accompanied by a rather large Labrador riding shotgun in the passenger seat) somehow decided it would be cool to make a right turn from the middle lane of an intersection when the light turned. Now, I’m no physicist by any stretch of the imagination but I know enough to understand that when two objects attempt to simultaneously occupy the same location in the space/time continuum, it usually doesn’t end well. Case in point…

The problem: I love my car and keep it meticulously maintained but it is 16 years old and has 220k miles on the clock. IMPORTANT – These are the only stats an insurance company will typically concern themselves with. Insurance “adjusters” and “agents” are little more than automatons who serve as data entry administrators, tasked with feeding their Algorithmic Overlords information via a keyboard so that they may deliver their learned verdict as to the fate of your automobile. Human grade critical thinking is unwelcome here and while your insurance “agent” will usually listen quietly as you vent your frustration at their process, they’re probably tuning you out and not picking up on half of what you’re saying. Here’s how I got through it and was able to keep my car in the process.


  1. KNOW YOUR CAR’S WORTH – Not what it’s worth to you but the value of a mediocre example of your ride as demonstrated in your local market. Knowing this in advance will tell you if you should consider GAP insurance (pointless “after the fact” but for future reference) to help cover your losses when your insurance company (or theirs) inevitably comes up short. It doesn’t matter if your car is garaged and in pristine condition, you’ll never get top dollar out of an insurance claim.
  2. Consider submitting a statement of DECLARED VALUE to your insurance company. Providers vary, but many will allow you to pay an only slightly increased premium in order to insure your vehicle for an amount YOU deem appropriate. Again, this is useless after the fact but still valuable information for the future.
  3. Unless the accident is your fault, be prepared to fight like hell with anyone who you feel isn’t cooperating in your quest to save your vehicle. I told my agent (AAA no less) REPEATEDLY that totaling the car was not an option, and that if that was the road they were going down to tell me immediately so I could withdraw my claim and go after the guilty party’s insurance myself. She ignored me. I found out when I got a call from the Total Loss Department with a figure they were prepared to pay me for my vehicle, which leads me to the next bullet point.
  4. Expect that people are not listening to you and will forget most of what you tell them as soon as they hang up the phone. Confirm the content of your discussions via email as a back up. Document EVERYTHING.
  5. BE PREPARED TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS THE MINUTE YOU FEEL THE SITUATION GETTING AWAY FROM YOU. In my case, I returned my rental car “early” and removed my car from the storage lot where they were keeping it so I could:

    1. Keep it secure inside my own garage
    2. Have access to it in order to shop other estimates after the claims adjuster tried to tell me the car sustained $7k worth of damage.
  6. Assume that “they” are out to get your car and get it off the road if it has a lot of miles on it. Incidence of insurance companies “totaling” vehicles has spiked 12% since 2008 and continues to rise.
  7. DON’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER. Whether it’s the insurance company or a repair facility, DEMAND SATISFACTION. I’m not fond of the persona I had to assume to get people’s attention but in the end it was the right thing to do, otherwise I would have lost my car.
  8. Understand that repair shops price their services differently dependent upon who your insurance provider is. Despite their BS I had to wade through over the phone, AAA gets a labor rate that is $13 an hour cheaper than I would have incurred had I repaired the car out of my own pocket. Parts discounts not available to “the public” apply as well.
  9. DO NOT accept the initial estimate rendered by your insurance adjuster if it sounds out of line. The woman from AAA hit me with $7k right out of the gate. I’ve since found a reputable shop who is fixing it for $2200. Persistence is key.
  10. Do not be surprised if the repair facility “sides” with your insurance company when faced with any sort of dispute or further inquiry. Despite having generated their own repair estimate of $2200, they weren’t going to share this information with me because AAA had already informed them that the vehicle was a total loss. Once that decree is handed down, everyone involved tries to wash their hands of the vehicle as quickly as possible. I DEMANDED FOUR SEPARATE TIMES to be made aware of the content of their estimate and the service tech tried to tell me he had to check with AAA first because, “he didn’t understand what I was trying to do…” I told him that AAA’s findings were unacceptable and that the car was NOT totaled and that I knew better. When he finally relented, I called AAA with the new estimate and reiterated to my insurance agent what I had just told the service tech. At $2200 I was under the threshold and they agreed to fix the car.

In the end it was clear that everyone I encountered wanted to just process my claim in accordance with what a computer told them and had very little interest in my desire to retain my vehicle and have it repaired without being saddled with a salvage title. There is a “threshold” established by the Algorithmic Overlords as to how much can be spent to save your vehicle before it will simply be cast down into the boneyard (or Mexico). If you let them total it, you won’t get enough money to replace it, and no one seems to care about that either.

Arm yourself with knowledge, get second and third opinions/estimates and above all else, stand your ground and remember the key words, “That’s unacceptable…” You may have to say it twenty times to ten different people but delivered properly it eventually weakens even the thickest of Adamantium skulls and YOU CAN PREVAIL.

Good luck!

2 thoughts on “I Don’t Want my Car Totaled! How to Cope After an Accident

  • Thank you for this article. I’m going to use your advice starting Monday because a body shop is telling AAA that my 2007 Mercedes SL55 AMG should be totalled. The accident was 100% fault of the other party and the main reason for the high repair expense is what the shop wants to charge for parts that can be obtained brand new for much less. The shop (chosen by AAA) is known as one of the most expensive in the San Diego area.

    • Hi Charles, sorry to hear about your SL55 🙁

      Yeah, the key here is to stay in the fight and simply refuse to cooperate unless you get what you want. Unfortunately, I can’t say that everyone is 100% successful in avoiding having their vehicle totaled but the upshot is, if you raise a big enough stink it’s not unusual to end up getting more for the car than it’s actually worth. Either way, stay engaged in the process every step of the way, remain calm and stand fast for your cause!

      Best of luck!

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