CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Insurance wants to total my 91 Corolla

My 91 Corolla wagon was in excellent condition with 200K miles, new tires and radio and an engine that get’s 30+ mpg.



I’ve owned it since it was born and have maintained it throughout the years.



Two weeks ago I was in an accident - the other driver took full responsibility for it and was ticketed.



The problem I’m having is that the front bumper assembly needs fixing - somewhere in the $1900 range.



What recourse do I have if the insurance company wants to total it?



I really expected to drive it at least 5 more years!

If your car has every option available, it’s replacement cost is about $1100. That’s the most they will give you. Maybe you can take the money and come up with the rest yourself to repair the car. You are only entitled to replacement cost, whether you can find a suitable replacement or not.

If the mangled parts are things you can bolt on without special tools or skills, try to get the blue book value of the car, and go parts shopping at the junk yard.

It’s almost 19 years old with 200k miles and the insurance company does not and will not take into consideration your subjective opinion of excellent condition, new tires/radio, and 30+ MPG.

The insurance company will offer you the true value of the vehicle and sentimental attachment is not part of the offer.

If you’re not happy with the offer then you have to be prepared to duke it out with them a bit; either by insinuating you may have a whiplash problem, paying a lawyer to send a letter and possibly prod them into more, retaining a lawyer to sue them, or by waiting them out.

With the latter, the insurance company wants this settled. Now. They don’t like clouds hanging around. Generally, you have about 2 years to file a suit and the ins. co. does not want this matter lingering so they may up the ante to clear it up.
From your perspective, you probably want the car fixed and fixed now. The ins. co. is not going to spend a grand more than the car’s worth in a repair. If you’re not prepared to play hardball and wait for a while then you’ll probably have to take what they offer.

And 1900 bucks to fix a bumper? The damage has to be more substantial than a bumper.

If it really is just damage to the bumper, the estimate could be so expensive because they’re quoting you using new parts that are hard to find for a car that old, whereas used parts can be probably be found for a fraction of that cost.

Usually in such situations, the insurance company will give you the “total” amount for your car and then give you the option to buy your car back from them for some token amount. Then you can use the difference to fix you car with junkyard parts, and maybe even make a small profit, to boot! One drawback is that in some states, your car will end up with a salvage title, which will basically halve the resale value of your car. But you weren’t really thinking of getting rid of it any time soon anyways, right?

Take whatever book value is (negotiable a bit) and buy the car back from them and pay to fix it out of pocket. You may be able to get used parts likely and fix it back for a reasonable amount.

I Have Been Hit While Stopped And Totalled 3 times! . . .
. . . Each time I “bought the car back” from insurance and repaired the car. I never lost any money, only some time.

Greasy Jack and Andrew J. are giving good advice. I take it the car suffered no mechanical problems involving the engine.

Don’t accept the first offer. I hope you can still get around so that you don’t have to be in a hurry. This deal is negotiable as Andrew has pointed out. You need to do your homework and find cars for sale that are as similar to yours as you can and cut out the ads that show how much money these cars can be worth. Also, round up any receipts of recent purchases for tires, radios, maintenance, etcetera, that will help substantiate it’s condition and your intent on keeping it.

Your agent should be willing to help you with this whole process. Be sure you understand the offer and how much you will “net” after the value of the “salvage” (what the insurance company could get for scrapping your car) has been deducted. Make sure you are free to do as you please with the cash and the car.

Accidents are never desirable, but my least undesirable one left me with my repaired car (I was able to use used parts and did some work myself) and $1800. I was able to drive it to the insurance agent, have it inspected, and the collision insurance reinstated.

Consider “contracting” (agree on a total price beforehand) with a body shop to repair it to be safe and looking as good as new, but with possibly using used parts wherever possible. In fact, be sure to get a “contracted price” before deciding to keep the car and not total it so you can be sure you still want to go that route.

It’s really their option. You can just buy it back and have it fixed yourself or fix it yourself. They aren’t going to pay you the $1900 damage when the car could be replaced for $1100 though. That’s just one of the risks of driving an older car and keeping it well maintained. Been there done that and just bought it back and fixed it myself.

You can settle with the insurance company with the stipulation that you want to retain salvage of the vehicle. What this means is, they’ll settle on the value of the vehicle. Let’s say it’s $1,200. If you want to retain salvage, they’ll knock something like $200.00 off the settlement price, so you walk away with a $1000.00 and the vehicle. Now you have some money that can be put towards the repair of the vehicle.

Tester

will an insurance company insure a salvage vehicle?

Yes. This is just a legal matter where all parties come to an agreement for recovery of damages. If the other parties insurance company is paying for the damages, your insurance company isn’t involved. And if the policy on your vehicle is still in force when salvage is retained, to your insurance company nothing has changed. Especially when you have just liabilty insurance on your vehicle.

Over the years I’ve been rear ended four times. And only once was the vehicle damaged to the point where it wasn’t worth repairing. In that case I took the full settlement and let the insurance company retain the salvage. The other tree times, I retained the salvage of the vehicle, and repaired them at a fraction of what I got in the settlement.

Tester

M Shugna, I Wrote About It Above. Following The Repairs I Did On My Cars, I Went To My Agent.

She inspected (looked at) and photograped the cars and then reinstated full coverage including collision and comprehensive. None of my totals ever resulted in a “salvage” title or even involved the title.

CSA

Exactly.

CSA

will an insurance company insure a salvage vehicle?

Depending on the state…if you retain possession of the car the car will NEVER be considered a salvage vehicle.

If you truly love the car…Get the insurance settlement (- buy back) and have it fixed someplace. Find used parts if at all possible. Tell the guy who’s repairing the vehicle that YOU’RE paying for it and what you have to work with.