To salvage a "totaled" car, or replace it? Advice requested

Greetings, denizens of our fair online city,

Our dear 2002 Honda Civic (120,000 miles, spotless maintenance and repair record) was recently declared totaled by our insurance company (valued at $6500) following an accident.

We are now faced with a decision: do we A) re-purchase the car as salvage and repair it, or B) buy another car?

Considerations regarding A: we own the car in full, but our insurance settlement would have the salvage value and “post-assessment re-assembly labor” subtracted from it in addition to the deductible; we live in Washington DC, and so would not have to have the car re-titled and re-inspected (i.e., we could drive it right back onto the road after the repairs were finished); the trustworthy repair shop we would likely take the car to is on the same block as the shop where it’s currently parked – both of which are in our neighborhood; the re-sale value of the car doesn’t matter to us, as we had assumed we would keep it for the length of its reasonably drivable life before the accident, BUT insurance-wise the value of the salvaged and repaired car would be considerably lower than its value before the accident (so if someone were to rear-end us driving out of the repair lot, the car would be totaled again and we’d get a lot less money).

Considerations regarding B: while we could afford it without a lot of trouble, this would be more expensive (we would replace our car with a newer vehicle); we would have to go through the rituals of car purchase (travel to dealer, dealing with dealer, test drive, pre-purchase inspection) and inspection and registration (the Washington DC DMV is somewhere around the 6th or 7th Circle in Dante’s Inferno); we had not wanted to buy another car for a few/several more years, BUT there would be no worries about damage that went undetected by the insurance adjuster AND the insurance value of the new car would be equal to its value for us.

We’re not concerned about safety issues for either option, as the insurance company’s estimate has included a structural examination of the car (new frame rails and impact bar are needed, though the air bag did not deploy; in addition, one of the mechanics at the insurance company’s shop has already offered to purchase the car from us at above salvage value – possibly so that he could fix it up for one of his kids, which makes me think that if the needed repairs were completed, the car would be fine.)

While we do have affection for this car, we want to do what is most likely to be most cost-effective for us in the long term. What thoughts do folks have – should we salvage and repair, or buy a newer car?


I would move on with another vehicle. Salvage vehicles are usually unsafe to drive and a money pit for repairs.

Are you sure about option A? I recently went through this same scenario. Once the insurance company inspected it, it was out of my hands. The appraiser declared it a total loss. This was sent to the insurer and the DMV. My safety inspection sticker was destroyed and a ticket put on the vehicle indicating it was unsafe to drive (I drove it home from the accident).

When asked about my options, the insurance company said; 1. they will no longer insure the vehicle if I decide to drop the claim and fix it up. 2. the DMV will issue a salvage title simply based on the insurance company assessment and 3. they offered fair market value plus taxes on the vehicle. They do not often allow buy-backs but if I insisted and bought it back, the settlement would be reduced by 50% and I would still have to fix it.

In short, once the insurance assessed it, it was branded. If I had never called them and fixed it myself, no one would have been the wiser.

The choice was difficult but obvious. I could go out and buy exactly the same vehicle without any damage if I accepted their check.

I have always found if the you have to ask, your are better off taking the money and moving on. I would look at the bottom line. If you can sell it for more money that is what I would do. While it can be put back on the road safely. If you don’t know anything about cars it will become a money pit. I have fixed cars like this only because I can do it myself. Its deferent if its not totaled by the insurance company and they have fixed. If something is not right, the fix is on their dime. You have it fixed and its not right, now its your dime.

With todays unibody cars engineered with crush zones, I suspect the structure of your car has begun to collapse as it was designed to do…“Pulling” it back into shape so the exterior panels fit and the wheels can be aligned (hopefully) is difficult and risky, especially when working with a 10 year old car…I would move on…

I would say take the money and run on an 02 Honda. You can eliminate all the hassles of finding a car by just going with new and get a nice warranty too with very very low rates right now. Or you can go with a rental return from someplace other than DC where at least you know the oil has been changed.

@Nathaniel Day
When you said “new frame rails and impact bar are needed” I made my decision. I’ve fixed a lot of wrecks, but I don’t like unibody frame damage. Things are obviously pretty badly bent up front. It’s time to sell.

You are most likely being offered FULL RETAIL value for your car, less your deductable. Look it up on You will never be offered this much for it again. If not, negotiate, because that’s what they owe you. Was this accident your fault? If not, the other guy’s company may well want you to be happy so you don’t sue later. If it’s your own company, they are more likely to just want to pay as little as possible. If the body shop will give you MORE than the insurance company will put into your pocket, then sell it to them. They will have to pay enough to cover your deductable. Also, around here, insurance companies also pay enough for you to cover the sales tax you will have to pay on an equivalent car. I don’t know about DC.

The body shop can probably buy it from you cheaper than they can buy it from the insurance pool that your company will send it to. It’s done by an online auction. If he buys it from the pool, he will have to pay them a pretty stiff fee for the privlege of buying it from them. You’re going to have to do some math…

I’ve never thought of myself as a denizen…

At 6500 dollars I’d send it to the crusher and start shopping.

Would never trust it again,time to move on-Kevin

One more ‘move on’ vote, and a strong one. Not even close.

I agree with the above posters; take the money and start shopping for another car. In the past I have looked at some write-offs that were rebuilt, and in all cases they either did not track straight, had large panel gaps and other imperfections.

If it was a classic, you would spend about 3 times what it was worth to bring it back to “normal”.

As stated, with unibody vehicles, the repairs are so difficult that they are usually not worth doing. That does not mean that there are not a large number of shops that do just that, and then fob off their product to unsuspecting buyers.