A Basic Overview of Vehicle Repair After a Collision in California

After a collision involving your automobile, truck or motorcycle, an insurance company has an obligation to either…

  • repair your vehicle or
  • determine that your vehicle is a total loss and pay the reasonable value of your vehicle.
  • Not surprisingly, the insurance company has the right to select the least expensive option.


    For example, let’s say another driver runs a red light, collides with your vehicle and causes extensive damage. A qualified auto body repair shop determines that it will cost $20,000 to repair your vehicle. At the same time and according to a market analysis, the fair market value of your vehicle may only be $15,000. In this case the insurance company can elect to deem your car totaled and pay $15,000.

    If the car is totaled, then you have the right to keep the salvage value. Let’s say this is $500. Then the insurance company in the above example would only have to pay you $14,500. If you let the insurance company keep the salvage value, then they would pay the full $15,000. This is usually the easier way to go.

    Note- We usually recommend that regardless of who caused the collision, it is best to have your insurance company coordinate the repair or total of the vehicle. Your insurance company has a fiduciary duty to treat you and your claim fairly and in good faith. The other side’s insurance company does not. Keep in mind that if you were not at fault in the accident, your insurance company may not raise your rates.

    You may also be entitled to be reimbursed for portions of your unused DMW registration because the vehicle was totaled.

    Your insurance policy may also allow you to have a rental car while the above estimates or repairs are taking place. The other side’s insurance company may be responsible for reimbursing you for the reasonable rental car expenses while the above is taking place.

    Despite what the insurance companies tell you, this is not a fire drill and you may take a reasonable period of time to make decisions. What is reasonable depends on your unique circumstances and facts of your claim or case.

    Get copies of all documents supporting estimates and confirming all repairs or the value of your totaled vehicle before making any final decisions. Also take as many pictures of the interior and exterior your vehicle before the repairs are started or vehicle is totaled.

    Make sure any documents you sign are limited to only the property damage portion of your claim or case. Bodily injury claims are a completely separate claim and are handled differently.

    Useful Links:

    Here is a link you can use to give you an idea as to the value of your vehicle. Note that insurance companies use a different database and can print out and share their findings with you. Usually their numbers are different than KBB but this will help.

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