They're NOT offering me enough for my vehicle.

Whenever your vehicle has been declared a total loss, the insurance company will offer you a settlement based on the fair market value of your vehicle. (this works for cars, motorcycles, RV's, boats, etc.)

In the realm of United States tax law, the definition of "fair market value" is found in the United States Supreme Court decision in the Cartwright case:

The fair market value is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts. United States v. Cartwright, 411 U. S. 546.

So you get offered some money for your vehicle. They give you a number. Sometimes you'll like the number... sometimes you won't.

Here's what to do when you don't.

First of all, you should always have a number in mind when you begin to enter the final phase of the claim.. That requires that you do a little research on your own. Please keep this important truth in mind as you do.


I know that YOU wouldn't do that, but some do. Just think about if for a second: Most people list their vehicles at a given price either in the paper or Auto Trader and then end up settling for less than that when they actually sell.

Remember: The price that the vehicle actually sells for is the FAIR MARKET VALUE of the vehicle.

Ok, so with that in mind, let's get about finding the FAIR MARKET VALUE of your vehicle. Here's your BEST sources.

  1. Call ads in the newspaper for vehicles that are as close to yours as possible. Hope to find people who have already sold the vehicles. WHY? Well because you quickly explain your situation and ask them if they would mind telling you the price for which the vehicle ACTUALLY sold. Might be more or less than the advertised price. Make a record of the ad, the phone number and the ACTUAL PRICE. Get as many of these as you can.
  2. Call a local used car dealership and explain your situation and ask for their help. Be willing to go see them. REMEMBER, you're in the market for a new car if yours has been totaled. Ask them help you determine the value of you car by looking in their records to see what similar models of theirs had sold for.
  3. BE SURE the insurance company has the right specifications on your car. If you had leather seats and power EVERYTHING, make sure they have that noted in the file. (more on this later.)
So once you have a number in mind, you're ready to begin discussions with your insurance company. We'll get to that in a minute.... (and let me remind you here that I'm an agent not an adjuster, but I've worked with adjusters for over 30 years and I know how they think and what they need to write you that check...)

Here's a couple of things that are IMPORTANT to keep in mind as you proceed.
  1. The claim adjuster is a hard workin' person just like you are. They're given MANY files a week to work through. I've seen it as high as 75!
  2. They want to get this file off their desk as much as you want to get your money.
  3. Most likely they DON'T REALLY CARE HOW MUCH THEY GIVE YOU FOR YOUR CAR! Yes, that's probably true. It's not their money. BUT... They have to justify in the file the amount they give you. If you can give them good justification for the value that you want, they are happy to write the check and get on the the next file.
  4. If you become their ally in this effort, you'll get a much easier and (likely) more profitable settlement.
  5. Insurance companies usually use an outside vendor to determine the value of the vehicle. (remember we talked about having your car accurately described to the insurance company....Leather Seats, etc???) The insurance company simply forwards that information to this vendor who researches SOLD VEHICLES in your area to determine the FAIR MARKET VALUE. It's usually NOT the adjuster who crunches the numbers..... he's just the messenger.
OK, now...back to the settlement.

ALWAYS have your acceptable number in mind before you call and ALWAYS let them make the first offer. You might be thinking $5,500 and they offer you $5,800. If that happens, simply say, "That sounds reasonable to me, can you mail the check today or would tomorrow be easier for you."

Have your documentation at the ready. You've done your research so you're ready. If the number is too low DON'T come unhinged. Ask them how they got the number and let them explain. Listen calmy and patiently without interrupting. Remember.....he wants settle and get rid of this file as much as you do.

Offer your documentation to help him justify paying a higher amount to you. Use phrases like, "Can I get a copy of this to you to help you with the file?" or "Would it help if I gave you some documented sales that were several hundred dollars above your offer?"

Calm... Collected and in control because you are. You don't have to settle until you're completely satisfied that you're getting fair market value.

If you don't have enough documentation, you'll have to go out and get some more. The more examples you can find, the better settlement you'll get for your vehicle.

Remember it's a process, not necessarily a one-time phone call. Take your time and win a friend along the way.


It's a Good Life !

Dennis Volz Insurance Agency
10783 Jamacha Bl, Suite 1, Spring Valley, CA 91978
OFFICE: (619) 670-1000 - FAX: (619) 670-1121

Websites: Company Site:

Client Convenience Site:

My 'Other Blogs'
Working by Referral
Musings from California