California law states that a person is allowed to recover the reasonable costs of repair if a vehicle is damaged. If the car cannot be repaired and is declared a total loss, damages are the fair value of the car. Sometimes a vehicle cannot be completely restored to its pre-accident condition even after repairs and the owner is entitled to the diminished value of the car.


California law states a person whose car is damaged is entitled to the reasonable cost of repairing it. After a collision, an insurance company will look at the car. An appraiser will decide the nature and extent of the repairs and will prepare a written estimate. The estimate does not bind the owner. The owner can use his appraiser to inspect the car. The two appraisers will resolve any differences.


The appraiser will sometimes decide the vehicle is a total loss. Total loss means the repairs costs are more than the car is worth. In that case, the owner’s damages are the fair market value of the vehicle. “Fair market value” is the highest price a buyer would have paid for the car after having been informed of its condition. There are a lot of sources that are used to determine fair market value. One source is the “Kelly Bluebook.” Another source is “Edmunds.” Internet research shows many other sites that are used to determine fair market value.

We instruct our clients to research as many sites as possible. It is essential to compare the damaged vehicle with other comparable cars. A similar car is one that is the same age, make, model, and mileage. The general appearance of the car taking into consideration dents, dings and scratches should also be similar.

The owner should be prepared to negotiate with the insurance company to arrive at a fair value for the car.


Sometimes a car’s market value cannot be restored after repairs. As an example, a repaired Bentley can lose market value after repairs because a buyer will refuse to pay full price for a car that was in an accident. The owner’s damages would be the repair costs plus the difference between the car’s value before the crash and the car’s value after repairs. The difference is called the diminution of value. Not every vehicle that sustains damage from a collision suffers diminished value after repairs. It all depends on the particular car.


The owner of a car damaged in a collision is entitled to damages, including the cost of repair or market value of the vehicle, whichever is less. In some cases, the owner is also allowed the diminished value of the car. After a collision, it is always a good idea to have the vehicle assessed by a competent appraiser.