Car totalled: buy back from insurance company?

Last week our 1999 Honda Civic EX was hit by an Accord at an uncontrolled city intersection. The right front fender and the bumper cover were broken, as well the right headlight and the the air intake box that resides under it. Neither driver was cited. We are waiting to hear from our insurance company after their adjuster came and inspected the car. We have a $500 deductible on collision.

With some bending and duct tape, the car can be driven. I took it to 2 body shops, both estimating about $2300. Both shops and the insurance adjuster said the car is in a lot better shape than most 1999 Hondas they see. We had no plans to replace it any time soon - in fact I was looking forward to doing the timing belt and water pump soon.

But: besides an off-kilter steering wheel and pull to the left, the car now transmits a loud thunk over freeway expansion joints, where it used to make a quiet boing sound, plus a new roaring sound that may be wheel bearing. The insurance adjuster who examined the car did not drive it. My trusted alignment shop found a bent steering knuckle and control arm, and estimated almost $1000, but said it could be a lot less with a used knuckle. He said the body plus suspension damage could mean the car will be totalled. He did not offer an opinion why the loud thunk. I won’t consider the body work without making sure the suspension can be actually fixed, and I have an appointment with another highly regarded frame and alignment shop to inspect it in two days.

Thanks for reading this far! Questions:

What could cause the thunk?

If the insurance company totals the car and I want to keep it, what should I know about that process?

I like working on my vehicles and have located a 2000 Civic, same color, in a local junkyard. The fender and air box are intact. That car had 280,000+ miles when it crashed into something. I could probably find a lower mileage knuckle with wheel bearing. I’d probably leave suspension work to the experts, but could replace the fender and air intake box and headlight myself, maybe the bumper cover, too, but it’d need to be painted.

How does the extra good condition of this well-maintained car affect this situation?

Any other thoughts?


Tell the adjuster that’s what you want to do. Usually you get to buy the vehicle back from the highest salvage offer (usually a few hundred dollars).

When you get the check you can keep the money, or just get it fixed enough to be safe and pocket the rest.

Honestly, I’d be very reluctant to keep this car.

It may have been “well maintained” over the years… but everything on it is now approaching 20 years old.

Now you’re wanting to put used parts with unknown history on this car?

If you’re already seeing issues with the suspension, I’d be worried about whether the car would eat through tires, let alone be safe to drive.

Sorry to be a negative Nancy here… but I tend to value reliability and safety first in my cars. Especially if it’s my wife’s car. Good luck with your decision.

1 Like

The process shouldn’t be difficult. You tell your insurance company that you want to keep the car, and they deduct the salvage value from your payout. When this happened to me back in the 1990s, the salvage value of my car was $50. I ended up selling the car for $100 several years later.

Where the process might get difficult will come later, when you want to get an alignment performed and you discover they can’t do it because you have a bent frame. It also might get difficult when you find other unseen damage later.

Who pays for collision insurance on a 20 year old car with (presumably) high miles? Once the value of the car is under $3,000 or $4,000 it is usually far more cost effective to drop to liability only.

My guess is the answer is: Those who can’t afford to buy a replacement car, but can afford an insurance payment. If the OP lives where the insurance rates are low, it might be a good decision, especially in light of what happened.

Collision was $38.12 for 6 months, with $500 deductible. I can afford a replacement car, but like this one very much, and would have regretted not having any insurance payout if what happened had happened, after all those years of caring for and insuring it.

1 Like

My feeling is that it is time to let it go. While it seems no personal injury happened a later model vehicle will improve the next time the chance of no injury is better. Besides unseen damage could make keeping it a poor financial decision.


In that case, you’re pouring more money into this car than it’s worth. Let it go and move on to something newer before you start having real problems that require costly repairs.

I have a friend who had two cars that were considered a total loss after accidents. One car was a Honda Civic that was close to 25 years old. It was badly rusted and hit in the right front. I would have junked the car before the accident. However, she bought the car back from the insurance company and found someone to fix it so it was driveable. She also owned a 12 year old Ford Taurus at the time. She finally decided to buy a new Honda Civic and trade in the old Civic. I went with her to the dealer and riding in the car scared the hell out of me. The seatbelts had the electrical retractors and the one on the passenger side had failed, so she had just cut the belt off. The dealer took the old Honda on trade and said he had a customer for the car. I figured that the customer was the recycling yard. A few years later, the Taurus was hit by a friend in a driveway. The left front and rear doors were dented, but the doors opened and closed and the windows still operated. However, this car was also considered a total. She bought it back from the insurance company and had a body technician bump the dents out and repaint the doors. The car looked o.k.and I couldn’t figure out why the car was totaled with such minor damage. A year later, the transmission started slipping. The repair shop said that the chassis was so badly rusted the car couldn’t be put on a lift to remove the transmission. I said that if the car were that bad, it wasn’t safe to drive. She claimed she would be o.k. just using the car around town. I claimed it wasn’t even safe for that type of use. Fortunately the transmission failed completely and the car was junked. I maintain if the insurance company totals a car, get the best settlement you can, take the money and run.


Might be a damaged bushing or ball joint associated with the problematic control arm, or damaged strut. Another idea, just the overall front end geometry has changed from the bent parts, and something has more or less play than it should.

Pretty much anything that’s broken can be repaired. Especially on a 99 Civic, where parts are plentiful. It makes more sense $-wise to repair a car that’s in excellent condition and has been well-maintained otherwise. So if the decision is leaning one way or the other, the good condition should make you more inclined to repair it.

I should mention however in reading your post that you may be overly biased in the “repair” direction due to fondness of the car and/or the rose colored glasses effect. Get some unbiased opinions from experts who’ve actually put your car on the lift and taken a look-see at the damage.

1 Like

In most cases I agree. But in the case of a significantly old car, it can be iffy. I had a CRX once which got its bumper cover torn off when I was run off the road in a snowstorm by some idiot in a truck. Snowbank ripped it clean off. The insurance company wanted to total it. I bought a bumper cover from a junkyard for $100 (got lucky it was the same color), replaced the broken clips, and drove it for many more years. Sometimes the ins. co is too eager to total.

In OP’s case, however, we’re talking about drivability damage, at which point with a 20 year old car I’d give it a fond farewell and get something else.