How is my vehicle valued in a total loss?

By Zak Larsen

I think I mentioned in a previous blog post that auto insurance claims is how I first got my feet wet in the insurance industry. I handled auto total loss claims for the first three years of my insurance career with a focus on fire, theft, and vandalism claims for the last year of that time. I can honestly say I have had hundreds if not a couple thousand people ask me to explain how their vehicle was valued during the claim process. So here’s the short and sweet version.

Something most people don’t remember is that your auto policy covers for the actual cash value of your vehicle. In other words, your policy covers what the car would sell for on the private market, not what a dealership would sell it for.

Photo by fortfan

If your vehicle is unfortunately deemed a total loss, the insurance company will run a valuation (usually through a software program) that compares it to other vehicles of the same year, make, and model in your area. These vehicles are either currently for sale or have sold in the last 90 days. There are three main factors that go into the valuation of a total loss:


  • What is the average mileage for a vehicle of your age? If your vehicle is above that average, there will be a decrease in value, below it and you will see an increase.


  • Most insurance companies will look at the condition of the interior, exterior, wheels/tires, and engine. Each of these categories are rated based on what you would expect to see in the “average” vehicle on the road. For example if you have a 5 year old vehicle with a couple of minor scratches and maybe a small coffee stain on the floor you’re still going to fall into the “average” rating as normal wear and tear is expected on a vehicle.
  • Something to keep in mind with this is if you have had any major refurbishments recently, you can turn in those receipts to potentially add a little value. Regular maintenance items like spark plugs or windshield wipers won’t do anything but you could get some extra value for things like a new transmission, engine refurb, or exhaust system.


  • Nearly every model of car has a subset of trim levels. If you have a higher trim level you are more likely to have a higher value based on the extra options that are provided in that trim. In addition, if you had special options added to your vehicle, then you should make sure that these are noted on the valuation to ensure you are getting a fair value.

So you’ve gone through the valuation line by line and the valuation source has provided a number that you think is too low. What do you do? There are few steps you can take in this situation.

Talk to your adjuster.

  • Contrary to popular belief, your adjuster really is there to help you through the process and they want to pay you a fair value for your vehicle; they may just have some resources to look at as well.

Do some research.

  • Take a look at websites like com,,, and others like these. You can input your zip code and what type of vehicle you are looking for and these websites can provide some good values to either show that the value you were offered is a good one or provide some proof of a higher value.

Talk to your agent.

  • I have helped a few of our insureds with their claim valuations and have come back with both scenarios in the past. The nice thing about talking to your agent is they can look at it from both perspectives and be honest with their opinion.

About Zak

Zak started at MAX in October of 2017 and has 3 years of insurance experience, specifically in auto insurance claims. A big sports fan, he spends time cheering on the Wild, Twins, and Vikings. Most of all he enjoys spending time with his family, working with his hands, and doing just about anything outdoors (especially fishing and camping). Zak also volunteers with a local high school youth group and helps to run a networking group for young professionals.

Photo by fortfan