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Car "totaled"--should I keep or buy a new used car?

Dear Smart Car People,

My teen neighbor rear ended my 1996 Toyota Avalon (230,000 miles). The insurance co. “totaled” it–and has given me two options 1) they’ll give me $3900, and take it to salvage, or 2) they’ll give me $3500 and I can keep it (to fix, to sell, to do whatever I want with it). It has damage to the rear bumper, the driver side tail & brake lights, the undercarriage and some rod underneath. It would probably cost 2500 or so to fix. The car’s in okay shape and I was hoping to make it to 300,000 miles–but now I don’t know. I could just use the 3900 to make a down payment on a used car, but ugh, that means car payments. But maybe that’s the way to go? And if I do buy a used car can you tell me how does anyone ever decide? Every time I make up my mind (a Honda Fit, a Toyota Corolla, another really used Avalon, a Honda Civic) I do research and come across millions of complaints. All I need is really reliable car that’s okay in the snow and gets good gas mileage.

So I guess I have two questions: should I get the car fixed or give it up to salvage and take the higher amount? And if I do buy a used car how do you ever make up your mind?


Sorry about your car. Due to the age and repair costs I would let it go and take the money an run. But run to where? You say you want a reliable car that is good in the snow… so what about getting a used Subaru. For less than 10 thousand dollars you can get a nice one that is around 6 years old. These cars love the snow and are fun to drive also. If you haven’t driven one go take a test drive in one (preferably in the snow) and see what I mean. They are also safe to drive and rate well for accident safety.

A lot of the repair estimate is to make the car as perfect as it was before the accident. Just to use the car doesn’t require it to be perfect, cosmetically. You could have the safety and functional things fixed, and forget about the aesthetics. This approach could cost only a few hundred dollars, and you would transportation. You aren’t too concerned about what someone might think about the appearance of such a repaired car, are you?

“It has damage to the rear bumper, the driver side tail & brake lights, the undercarriage and some rod underneath”

While that sounds serious, the only tricky part to fix is the undercarriage. The rear quarter panel is probably the most expensive part. Can they weld in just a section of it, or does it need a complete replacemant? How badly is the trunk floor bent? Call around to some FRAME shops. Those are body shops that specialize in stretching cars back to their original shape. See what they bid. If you REALLY like the car, and it’s worth it to YOU, then have it fixed. If it were mine, with that age and miles, I think I’d let it go.

230k & 1996 is a good life. I would move on. For example the automatic transmission at this point if never addressed is a ticking timb bomb. Also $3900 is a gift for such an old and difficult to sell vehicle.

I know a bummer.

There are not millions of complaints about FIT, Corolla, Avalon, Civic just the vocal few. EVERY car maker has them luckily the problem cars are the vast minority.

AT 230K miles, I’d take the money and walk away. The car is 14 years old. You got your money’s worth. Things happen. You may have made it to 300K, but now you’ll have to change your plans.

Insurance companies are very good at figuring out whether or cars are worth repairing. They “totaled” your Avalon because the cost to repair it exceeds its value. Take a lesson from that.

If your requirements are “reliable car that’s OK in snow” I’d say there are millions of vehicles from which to choose:

Camry, Civic, Accord, Corolla, Matrix, Scion xA or xB, Vibe, Mazda3, Focus, Fusion, Malibu, Forester, Legacy, Impreza, Sonata, Accent, Avalon, Altima, Maxima, Fit, Sentra, Versa, and on and on and on.

The trick with snow is TIRES. If you have the proper tires almost any car can be driven in snow.

Drive as many as you like and buy the one that suits you best. Have fun shopping.

I concur on snow it is all in the TIRES and very careful research. The selection is narrow for all-seasons that perform in the winter but they exist.

Let the Avalon go. It isn’t worth the headache.

If you calculate the odds, it is likely you would have spend about as much on keeping your Avalon running as you will now spend on car payments of a reasonably priced used car, especially if you spread the cost of those payments over the life of the new vehicle after it is paid for.

Take the money and walk away. I had a 1989 Maxima that I really loved. At 140,000+ miles it didn’t use any oil between 5,000 mile changes, and it ran great. It was about 12 years old when it was in an accident and while I was sad to see it go, it was just a car and we should not let material things own us. I now have a 2006 Accord that I love as much as the old Maxima (very similar car in many ways).

It’s time to let go. Take the money and run.

They are going to give you $3,500 and you keep the car - that’s the option I’d take. Since the car was hit in the rear all the motor, radiator, drive train is unaffected.

Take the car to a good body shop and tell them you are going to pay for the repair (not insurance) and ask them what it would take to make it functional. Perhaps the rear bumper can be remounted with or without repainting. If you can repair the car for $1,500 and live with it, then you can put the $2,000 in a “new car” fund for the future.

Even if you decide not to keep the car, if it fixed you should be able to sell it without too much trouble and again have more money to go toward your new car fund.

Do not keep this car.
1.They are offering you $3900 for a 14 year old car. If you fix it and sell it later you might get a plugged nickel for it but not much more.
2. It would probably cost 2500 or so to fix. …No, it will cost more. A total loss is a vehicle that will cost more to repair than it is worth and they are telling you it worth $3900.
3. If you keep and repair then any additional money needed to complete the repairs will come out of your pocket since you bought the vehicle back from the insurance company, they are out of it, it’s all you.
4. If the body is out of alignment from the impact and it is not pulled and an alignment added you may be eating tires very quickly.
5. If you keep it you have to search to find a shop willing to repair it. Shops in my area will not repair a t/l for various and good reasons.

Sorry about the accident. If the teen neighbor was not horsing around then try to remember it’s an accident and not an intentional. Other than the payments this is the time to buy.

keep it. They are well made cars and making payments suck.

Sell it. You’ll be hard-pressed to dump a car with a salvage title down the road, and it won’t be as simple to fix as you think initially. It will quickly become a money pit.

$3900 is a very good price for your car. Take it and get another car. Let us know what characteristics you want in your new car and how much you want to pay, and we’ll help you find one.

I am also in the “take the $3900, and run” camp. Given the circumstances, it was indeed bad luck, but one has to move on and not dwell on the past-it was a great car, and it served you well.

As others have already mentioned, you’ll have a very hard time selling a salvage-title car, down the road. Also, if you did not religiously adhere to the maintenance schedule listed in your Owner’s Manual, you might be unpleasantly surprised with a very expensive repair bill shortly after you get it back from the body shop.

If the price of a new car is a major concern, I suggest you look at the all new 2011 Hyundai Sonata ( links below). It is almost identical in size to the '96 Avalon. You might be surpised at how much car you get for $19k, and those $3.9k you’re getting from the Insurance Co., will make for a very nice downpayment. I bet that with some skillful haggling you could get it out the door for an even $20k. I think I saw an advert on TV the other day, where Hyundai was also offering 0% interest on a 5 year loan. That equates roughly to about $16 for each $1000 that you borrow. ($15k loan = $240.00 payment)
Best of luck.