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What happens if the insurance company "totals" the car, but you want to keep it?

Just curious. What happens if you get in an accident, say you scrape against a tree and tear off a fender, and the estimated cost to fix it is say $2000, but the car is only worth $1500 by the Kelly Blue Book. So the insurance company says it is “totalled” right? Then they pay you $1500 cash, and take the car. They say this is reasonable, because you could purchase another like it for $1500 if you wanted. I presume the wrecked car has some value for its parts, so the insurance company recoupes some money by selling the wrecked car to somebody, like a recycling yard.

But what if you’d be perfectly happy if they’d pay you say $1250, and you keep the car? With some sweat equity, a hammer and dent puller, some spray paint, and poor enough vision you can’t discern the remaining dents, you could fix it up yourself for that amount. Will the insurance company do that? If not that, what are the options if you’d rather keep the car?


How about this scenario?

Don’t tell the insurance company

Get a same color fender (and bumper, if needed) from the junkyard

Install it yourself

Keep the clean title

BTW my supervisor kept his totaled car and was issued a salvage title. Because of the salvage title, he now needs to get the car smogged EVERY YEAR, instead of every 2 years if it hadn’t had the salvage title.

If your car is “totaled” then the insurance company pays you fair market value for your loss and keeps the car. You may have the option to buy it back for some dollar amount. But depending where you are you may need to have the car inspected to license it and the title may be “branded” as a salvage car. Some people don’t like that.

What @db4690 states above happens more often than you think and is one reason that CarFax is unreliable as to the history of a car.

I also think it unlikely that someone would carry insurance on a $1500 car. Sure, you may be legally required to carry liability coverage to pay for damage to someone else’s car if you are at fault, and perhaps personal injury protection is a good idea. But who would pay for collision and comprehensive on a $1500 car? Keep the money and bank it.

Depends on the insurance company. I bought mine back for $50 from State Farm. When I was done fixing it though, the agent needed to look at it in order to put collision coverage on it again. There was no change in title and no salvage title. Title never changed hands.

I’ve done it twice. And I know a couple of people who did it.

The insurance company gives you fair-market value (or at least they’re suppose to)…then to buy it back…you have to option to pay the highest price a salvage yard will pay. If you buy it back…it may or may NOT have a salvage title since the title never really was transferred. Check with your local DMV. I just had to get my vehicles fixed and inspected…in both cases the repairs were minor…but the cars weren’t worth much.

Be aware that automobile insurance laws vary from state to state, and what’s true for one state may not be for others. It might also be necessary to register the car as “salvage” or something of that nature, and you can bet that if you put in a claim the insurance money will recover it from you.

My suggestion? Just repair the car and don’t tell the insurance company. KBB values are not representative of what the car is worth to YOU, only what it’s worth to a buyer. It still might be (and often is) a far better deal financially to repair a car even if the cost of repair exceeds the market value.

Bing says, " Depends on the insurance company. I bought mine back for $50 from State Farm. When I was done fixing it though, the agent needed to look at it in order to put collision coverage on it again. There was no change in title and no salvage title. Title never changed hands. "

I have done this 3 times. Each time the title was never involved, unchanged.

Get a settlement offer from the insurance company. Tell them you could be interested in keeping the “salvage” (wrecked car). Get a price for that. The insurance company should just subtract the salvage from the original settlement amount.

FYI, it pays to do a little homework. Search ads for cars similar (make, model, model-year, miles, condition) to your’s. Print/cut out ads showing these cars for sale that include prices. Compile any receipts showing maintenance and recent work (tires, brakes, etcetera) that would make your car more valuable. Negotiate a settlement that is in your interest. The offer from the company is in their interest. I have never accepted the first check that was offered to me.

I repaired or had professional help repairing all three cars with the blessings of my insurance company. One I fixed in the driveway for $89. As Bing says, the insurance company agent needs to see the repaired car and take pictures, when it’s fixed, before reinstating the collision insurance. That makes sense because they don’t want to pay on the wreck of a wrecked car.


Thanks to all, good information. My 'ol Corolla not involved in any fender-benders (yet), but was thinking what I’d do if it was, since it would almost certain be totaled by the insurance company; still I’d prefer to keep it even if it has a dent or two. As mentioned above, it doesn’t make sense to maintain collision insurance on a 20 year old car, so the situtation as described wouldn’t happen. There’s be no insurance pay out if the accident was self-caused on a car without collision insurance. But instead another driver scrapes up against your car and knocks off a fender. Then there would be an insurance pay-out. It looks like the best strategy – if there’s a payout and the car is totalled – is to seek out the highest insurance pay-out possible, then offer to buy the car back from the insurance company. Thanks to all for the info about the potential title and inspection/smog problem too.

I don’t know how it works where everyone else lives but I recently went through this with my insurance company. Posted in another thread…

In short, they said they would not insure the vehicle once it was deemed totaled. I’m not just talking about collision coverage. On my insurance, each car is listed with the coverage for each. Collision is just one aspect of the coverage. They said they would not insure the car again, period. They meant for anything including just liability. Buy it back and fix it up? Then go shopping for another company that would be willing to insure it. Too much hassle.

Combine that with the fact they paid me ~$2k OVER market value AND included taxes on top of that made it an easy choice. I went out and bought one a year newer, in much better shape and pocketed the $2k. Good riddance to the wreck even though it was tough to let it go…

That wasn’t a problem with me. I didn’t have collision on either of the cars that the insurance company totaled.

One of my cars…I took the $1500 insurance money…spent $200 and 2 hours getting it road worthy again. Didn’t look the greatest…but it ran and passed inspection. And put the $1300 toward tuition and books.

Yeah it may depend on the severity of the damage too. In my case it was a deer so hood, fender, grill, lights, etc. Car was old enough so parts not available without looking hard. No real structural damage. Found the parts but cost me $700 to restore it. Went to Europe on the rest. Come to think of it again, I maybe should have just dumped it then and saved a lot of money.

My hood and left front fender were damaged…along with headlight and a few other things. I got a used hood from a junkyard (different color…but it worked). Straightened the fender out a little…and replaced the front light (again from junkyard). And continued driving for about a year longer with that car.

Good post @MikeInNH, yes, say the ins co would pay $1500 on a $2000 estimate, then you buy the car back from them for $250 (the highest a junkyard would pay for it at a wreck), so you pocket $1250 and keep the car. Then you put a little sweat equity into the situation, head out to the junkyard and buy a fender from a wrecked car for $250, bolt it on. So what if it isn’t the same color? It’s safe and it runs. Think of it as a Grateful Dead designed car. Colorful. Plus you have $1000 in your pocket to pay for future upkeep and repairs and tickets for Dead concerts. Now that’s living! … lol

We have a family friend, a single female in her 60s that twice has bought a “totaled” vehicle back from the insurance company. One of her vehicles was a 1990 Honda that she inherited from her mother’s estate. The other vehicle is a 1996 Ford Taurus wagon. In the case of the Ford Taurus, the left doors were dented, but still opened and closed and there was no other damage. However, I suppose the insurance company deemed the cost of repairs too high to repair the vehicle. The 1990 Honda Civic was hit in the right front. Some work had to be done to the suspension and the right fender was replaced.
I think if I had an older vehicle, if all that were needed were bolt-on parts, I would be tempted to buy it back. Paint work today is very expensive. If I couldn’t obtain the fenders or doors in the color to match the car, I wouldn’t be too concerned. Unmatched colors don’t affect the gas mileage.
My brother has a Chevrolet 3/4 ton van that was crushed behind the driver’s seat when a tree fell on it. He bought the van back from the insurance company, borrowed a hydraulic ram and straightened it up. He bought two used side doors and bolted them on. He has had at least 2 years use out of this van. The doors don’t match the rest of the van, but he doesn’t worry about it. His insurance company will no longer write comprehensive insurance for the van, but does still provide liability insurance. He did have the windshield crack long after the repair. One glass company refused to replace the windshield because the van has a salvage title, but another company did replace the windshield, but wouldn’t guarantee the job.

One of my neighbors has a 60’s Karman Ghia, sort of an ex-hippie. I notice the door is a completely different color than the rest. I said to him one time “I like your car, but did it get in a wreck?”. He said “why?”. I said “because the door is a different color”. Karman Ghias in my opinion should be all the same color I guess. He said “No, that’s the way I like it, I had the doors painted that way” . I thought he was joshing me, 'cause the colors clash, it looks hideous! On an otherwise classic and well preserved stock car. The next time he drove by I looked carefully, and the doors on both sides are the same color, both totally different colors than the body! Being more careful what I say to him now.

I was hit from behind and then wanted my car to be repaired to what it was before. The repair cost was more than the car was worth on the market so the other guy’s insurance company gave me repair money only equal to the bluebook value and I kept the car, a pet car that I like and want to keep for as long as I can drive. I argued with them and told them that I want my car to be what it was before their client partially ruined it. I got nowhere and the only recourse was a lawsuit to include repair cost and the lawyer’s fee. The difference was only about$500 so I gave up. My insurance guy said that is how it goes and there is no supplemental insurance available to cover for such a situation. There is antique car insurance but the price is too high for me to tolerate for such an infrequent event; first ever in my life of driving.

It sounds from this thread Wha Who? you were lucky to get that outcome. The standard practice it appears is that if you want your car back after it has been totalled and you’ve received payment of the blue book amount, you have to buy it from the insurance company at whatever price they wish to sell it for, usually the junkyard value for its parts. And in some cases they won’t sell it back. The insurance company appears to have just given you the car – from their point of view it was their car at this point – for free, so I think you did pretty good for yourself.

I can totally see your own point of view that what you really deserve is your car back, repaired to the same condition it was before the wreck – after all you were not the cause of the accident. And the blue book value was probably not the actual value of the car since you maintained it well all these years. You couldn’t have purchased a similarly maintained car at that price.

But it appears state law generally doesn’t require the insurance company to do this. The insurance company could have said “well, if you want to keep your car, sure, but then we don’t owe you any money at all, sign this claim waiver, and get out of our office.” So all in all the insurance company was good to show some flexibility and just give the car back along with paying you the blue book value toward the repairs needed. I expect they did this because you didn’t back down after your first interaction w/them, and were persistant in advocating for what you thought was right. Good on you!

Old topic I know.

Looking for info from MikeInNH.
MikeInNH I am in NH as well and have a current situation (potential total loss) as you described and was hoping for more insight as to how things work in NH.

I’d send a private message but can’t figure out how to do it.
Then again since I’m new here I may not yet be allowed to send one

Both of the times I had a vehicle totaled by the insurance company I was living in NY. But pretty sure it’s the same in NH.

Talk with your insurance company. If a vehicle is totaled, then you can by it back from the insurance company (after settlement). Inform the insurance company you want to do this before you settle. Also do your homework to determine what the value of the vehicle actually is. Trust me.they’ll try to low-ball you.

Once you get it back ( there may or may not be a salvage title). There never was with me, not sure what NH does. Then get it fixed and you may need it inspected also.

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The only way to get a actual answer is from your insurance carrier.