Determining the Value of Your Car in an Accident | The Law Offices of G Turner Howard III

When you have experienced a car accident, your first concern is ensuring that everyone in both vehicles is okay. The next step that many people take – often assuming that it’s best practice – is contacting their insurance company or agent. This will lead to the agent then assigning your accident claim to an insurance adjuster, who will investigate the claim and then assign a value to it. This will result in you receiving a quote for repairs or for the replacement value of your car.

As the claimant, it’s important for you to understand how insurance adjusters go about determining a repair or replacement value. It’s common for claimants to feel surprised and disappointed at their offer because they don’t understand the process. At G3 Help Me, we recommend that the first thing you do after an accident is call us so that we can ensure you aren’t scammed by insurance adjusters and receive full compensation for your damages.

Even when you’re certain that you understand how your insurance company arrived at a figure, you may still feel that it is unfair and wish to file a claim with your attorney. Keep in mind that you have only one year to initiate a personal injury lawsuit under Tennessee’s statute of limitations. This is among the shortest time limits in the United States. Regardless of whether you choose to file a personal injury claim, here is a general outline of how your insurance adjuster determines the value of your vehicle and decides whether your quote is for repairs or for the replacement value of your vehicle.

Assessing Damage to Your Vehicle

Once you have initiated a claim with your insurance company, an adjuster will visit the repair shop or other location of the car to assess its damages. It’s the adjuster’s job to determine if repairing the vehicle is the best use of finances or if it would be better to declare it a total loss and provide you with funds towards a new vehicle.

A general rule of thumb is that the adjuster will declare the vehicle unrepairable and advise you to purchase a new car if he or she decides that it has sustained more than 60 to 70 percent damage. The exact amount depends on the insurance company’s loss limits. Some of the things that the adjuster specifically looks at include the car’s trim, seats, other mechanical parts, interior carpet, engine, and tires.

Other Situations That Might Result in a Total Loss Claim

Part of the frustration that some people feel with auto claims is that their car looks salvageable and repairable to them, yet the insurance company has declared it a total loss. Below are some additional reasons that this might occur:

  • Your vehicle has sustained significant water damage that will eventually cause rusting
  • The estimated cost to repair your car is more than its fair market value
  • A major structural component of the car has sustained significant damage

You should always question your insurance company’s offer if there is any part of it that you don’t understand. Your agent will only provide you with the actual cash value (ACV) of the car if the adjuster has decided it meets the definition of total loss. If you want to keep a vehicle that an insurance company has listed as a total loss, you will need to update your title of the car to include the fact that the state now considers it a salvage vehicle. Adjusters base their figures on information obtained from sources such as the Kelley Blue Book.

How to Negotiate for the Best Auto Value After an Accident

Insurance companies are in business to make money. That means adjusters will often try to make the lowest claim allowable by law. Despite this, you may be able to negotiate for a better offer. Insurance adjusters typically don’t expect this and may be willing to work with you. Here are some tactics you can try:

  • State the amount you expect and ask the adjuster to negotiate
  • Request the adjuster to determine average value by starting with a smaller pool of cars
  • Use the Kelley Blue Book to look up the features of your own car and provide this to the adjuster
  • Obtain sales reports from dealerships to see how much cars like yours have sold for in recent months
  • Set up your own appraisal with a third-party organization

Contact G3 Help Me

Keep in mind that you may still not like the settlement offer after going through all of this. While discouraging, remember that you always have the legal right to hire an attorney after a car accident – even if you don’t have significant injuries. Again, we urge you to contact us immediately after your accident so we can help you navigate through next steps and ensure you are treated fairly from the very beginning. In the case that you’ve already contacted your insurance provider, we can still help. There are never any fees until we win for you.


After spending his secondary years of study at The McCallie School in Chattanooga, G Turner Howard III earned his BA at Tulane University. A member of the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association, he received his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law. Before becoming an attorney, he earned a Master’s and Doctor of Divinity at Andrews Theological Seminary and Columbia Theological Seminary. He also served as a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army in Vietnam. With more than 20 years of experience, his firm has helped clients receive millions of dollars for personal injury, and in many cases, much faster than they ever expected.