You can call some salvage or wrecking yards in your area and ask what they are willing to pay you for the totaled car. It is best to call several wrecking yards and then average the price they offer you. A reasonable estimate is 15-20% of the retail value of the vehicle at the time of loss. Keep in mind that a vehicle totaled due to front end damage will have a lower salvage value than the same vehicle totaled due to a rear impact.
A salvage yard will often pay you more than a scrap yard. It just depends on how badly damaged the vehicle is and what parts may be reusable. Salvage yards attempt to salvage usable parts that can be resold as is to body shops, mechanics and individuals and then the remainder is crushed and sold to be melted down. A scrap yard will generally only offer you based on the weight of the metal because they are just going to crush it all down to be sold as raw metal for recycle.
All insurance companies have different formulas and conditions for paying out on a total loss. For instance, I know of a few companies in Illinois that will formulate a value at time of loss based on the following factors: car's condition before the accident, current blue book value, current dealer re-sale prices, current salvage values, and current newspaper listing prices. Taking all these sources of info into consideration, it is difficult to say the least to compose a salvage value, until the actual time of loss, and after an adjuster examines the damaged vehicle.
There are some insurance companies out there that will not do what is right toward you, but the right companies will be fair and reasonable to you. For instance, I know that The Hartford asks you what the condition of your car was prior to the accident, the adjuster who goes out to look at the vehicle looks at any prior damage on the vehicle and any mechanical malfunctions. They then go on the market (Auto Trader is used commonly) and search for vehicles in the same category condition and base your vehicles value on that value. They then retain the salvage. I know however that if you choose to keep your salvage title, they take the market value of the car and subtract with the salvage value and that's the money you get along with keeping your car. The main point of giving you market value is so that you can go out and buy the same exact car in the same condition as your vehicle was prior to the loss. In conclusion, there are some fair companies out there. It's the consumers sometimes that keep trying to take more because they see a no fault auto accident as a way to make money.
If you think you are being low balled by the insurance company than you may invoke the policy section where disagreements about settlement value can result in an independent appraisal/mediation. You will have to pay half of the fee for this, though.
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