"Is there an insurance law that says when my car has to be totaled?"

Not that we're aware of, at least here in Washington state.

That said, we're aware that sometimes there is hidden collision damage to a car that can add substantially to the cost of the initial estimate.

With that in mind, insurers may decide to total a car when their initial repair estimate is around 70 percent of the vehicle's current market value. Otherwise, if the repairs are started and costs due to hidden damage escalate another 30 percent or more, they can end up spending more to fix the vehicle than it's actually worth.

The short answer: there is no "official" formula in the law for totalling a vehicle. But insurers look at the repair cost potential. If it's close to the value of the car, they may decide not to even begin repairs, and to simply compensate you for the value of the vehicle.

How do they establish that value? The insurer owes you the actual cash value -- i.e. the retail market value -- of your car. Insurers have to look at local values for comparable vehicles, although with your permission, your insurer can extend the search beyond 150 miles.

If you disagree on the value -- and we get these calls all the time -- you can hire an appraiser and go through the appraisal process in your auto policy. If the dispute is with someone else's insurer, you can either file a claim with your own insurer, or you may want to consider taking the matter to court.

Please see our "What happens after your car gets totalled" page for  much more on totalled car values, disputes, and what happens if you opt to keep your totaled car.

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