Most states require drivers to carry a minimum level of liability car insurance. This coverage pays for damage and injuries you cause others in an accident. However, liability insurance does not cover damage to your own vehicle. So what happens if your car is totaled but you only have liability coverage?
Unfortunately, you will likely need to pay out-of-pocket to repair or replace your car if it is totaled and you only have liability insurance. However, there are a few options you may be able to pursue, depending on the specifics of your situation.
Understand Why Liability Insurance Won’t Cover A Total Loss
Liability car insurance is split into two main types:
Bodily injury liability – Covers injuries to others caused by you in an accident.
Property damage liability – Covers damage you cause to someone else’s vehicle or property in a crash.
Liability insurance only protects the other driver’s car and medical expenses. It does not pay anything for damage to your own vehicle, no matter how severe.
That’s why liability-only policies won’t cover costs if your car is totaled. You need additional coverage types like collision and comprehensive for your insurer to pay if your vehicle is damaged beyond repair.
File a Claim With the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance
If another insured driver is fully or partially at-fault for the accident that totaled your car, you can file a third-party claim with their insurance company.
Even without your own collision coverage, the at-fault driver’s property damage liability should pay for damage they caused to your vehicle. This helps reimburse your loss up to their policy limits.
However, the insurer may try to limit or deny your third-party claim if you were driving without full coverage at the time. Having an experienced attorney can be extremely helpful if the at-fault insurer disputes your right to compensation.
Explore Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage helps pay for an accident caused by a driver with insufficient or no insurance. Required in some states, it can be added to your own policy.
If your UM coverage was still active when the crash occurred, contact your insurer to file a claim. This provides a backup payment source if the at-fault party lacks adequate coverage to pay for your totaled car.
However, your insurer may deny an UM claim if you voided required collision and comprehensive coverage. Check your policy language for any exclusions regarding uninsured motorist claims without full insurance.
Use Other Insurance You May Have
If you have other insurance policies, they could potentially help pay for a totaled vehicle:
Credit cards – Some cards include rental car coverage that may apply if you charge repairs.
Homeowners or renters insurance – May cover damage from non-traffic related claims, like if a tree fell on your parked car.
Comprehensive business policies – May cover cars used for work, even personal ones without separate coverage.
However, these options are not guaranteed to pay for a totaled personal vehicle. Read your various insurance contracts closely to see what exact types of car damage may be covered.
Take Legal Action Against the At-Fault Driver
Without collision insurance, you may need to take legal action to recover costs from an at-fault driver if their coverage is insufficient. Potential options include:
Small claims court – Can cover repair costs up to your state’s limit, typically $5,000-$15,000.
Civil lawsuit – Necessary for large claims. An attorney can help negotiate a settlement or pursue a judgment.
Payment plan – The at-fault driver may agree to a structured repayment schedule for damages. Get it in writing.
However, recovering compensation directly from a driver is not guaranteed. Make sure to evaluate their assets and ability to pay before pursuing legal action.
Claim Against Your Own Insurance
In rare cases, you may be able to file a claim with your insurer for a totaled car even if you only had liability coverage at the time. This depends on specific circumstances:
New policy not yet active – If coverage was bound but not in effect yet when the accident happened, the insurer may pay a claim as a courtesy.
Recent lapse in coverage – Long-time customers with spotless records may get reimbursed if a lapse was accidental and brief.
Misunderstanding coverage needs – An insurer could pay if an agent did not properly explain mandatory coverages.
However, insurers are under no obligation to pay anything above liability only. It is extremely difficult to compel them to cover a totaled car without the right policy types at the time of loss.
Explore Alternate Transportation Options
While trying to get reimbursed for your totaled car, you will need alternate reliable transportation right away. Some options to explore include:
Borrowing a car from family or friends temporarily
Renting a car long-term for a discounted monthly rate
Leasing a new car with low down payment offers
Ride-sharing services like Uber or public transportation
Purchasing an inexpensive used car that meets your basic needs
Avoid long-term high-interest car title loans or other predatory lending offers. Focus on affordable transportation that fits within your current budget.
Learn From The Experience
Driving without physical damage coverage puts you at significant financial risk. Let this incident be a lesson to maintain full car insurance going forward. Here are some tips:
Discuss coverage needs with an agent when buying or renewing a policy.
Choose higher deductibles on collision/comprehensive to save on premiums.
Review policy limits and exclusions annually as your driving profile changes.
Sign up for autopay and renewal reminders to prevent accidental lapses.
Compare rates regularly to find the best price available for required coverage.
Maintaining continuous auto insurance with adequate limits ensures you can get your vehicle repaired or replaced if it’s totaled in a future covered accident. Don’t get caught without collision and comprehensive protection again.
Liability insurance alone does not pay anything for damage to your own vehicle.
File a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurer seeking reimbursement for your totaled car.
Uninsured motorist coverage may help if the at-fault party lacks sufficient insurance.
Other insurance policies like credit cards or business insurance could cover the loss in some cases.
You may need to take legal action against the liable driver if their insurance won’t fully pay.
In very limited scenarios, your insurer might pay a claim even without collision coverage.
Going forward, make sure to maintain physical damage coverage to avoid paying out-of-pocket for vehicle damage.
Having your car totaled with only liability insurance can result in expensive out-of-pocket costs. An attorney familiar with insurance claims may be able to help maximize your options for reimbursement. Learn from this experience and keep full coverage in place moving forward.
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