Why are cars declared totaled?

My Scion xB was rear-ended this weekend. The guy who came to tow it away thought there was a 50/50 chance it was totaled. I’m waiting to hear from the shop, but I’m curious now: how do they decide if cars should be written off or not?

The car’s here, to show the damage:


It’s up to the insurance adjuster, not the tow truck driver, to decide whether or not a vehicle is “totaled.” Wait until the insurance company gets a look at it. Generally, vehicles are totaled when the cost to repair them exceeds their value.

The damage does not look that bad to me, but I’m not an insurance adjuster.

The insurance company gets an estimate of the cost of repair. If the cost is close to the blue book value of the car ( I forget the percentage ), then they declare it totalled.

How old is the car and how many miles are on it?

Simply put, if it will cost more to repair to ‘like new’ condition than its blue book value, then the insurance company will call it totaled, and pay out the blue book value.

But, I’m assuming yours is a 2004 model. The repairs will be extensive, since this is a uni-body car (truck) and there is frame damage. I see very bad damage to the core body, which also serves as part of the uni-body frame. This will require a lot of time on a frame machine to get it back to correct alignment. Also, if they cannot pull the metal back into shape without splitting it, they will not even try. They may try to splice a new section to replace the bent metal, welding it into place. If it approaches $12,000 in estimated repairs, they will total it.

It depends on the repair costs weighed against the real value of the vehicle, which is dependent on age, mileage, etc.
Around here, if the repair costs meet or exceed 60% of the real value they usually total it.
The same rule applies to homes. If a fire occurs and the cost to repair meets or exceeds 60% of the home’s insured value they total the house.

Offhand, the damage does not look too bad. Some glass, tailgate, and some cut and splce on the rear quarter along with some paint should fix it but of course the age/mileage thing is a huge factor.

Make sure that the value is the replacement value from a dealer rather than trade-in value if it is totaled. You should be given the option of buying a ca in excellent condition if it must be replaced. You can buy one wherever you want, but the retail price for your xB is higher than a typical private transaction or trade-in.

Recently my wife had an accident un her 98 Jeep Cherokee. It was declared totaled by AAA. We took a look on the conditions of the car in Internet and according to our appreciation was not worth more than $4000 but actually they gave us $5000 which was a great help to get another second hand car in better conditions.

It’s a 2005, with mumbledy-mumble miles. (I forget. Not a whole lot.)

Thanks to all of you for the explanations. I’m hoping it can be repaired, but if it isn’t I’ll take your advice about the value.

I wouldn’t hope too hard. Safety hasn’t been mentioned. The body is the frame and it won’t be like new. A vehicle like this can be less safe in the next accident.

A lot has to do with the salvage value of your car. The insurance company has to pay you fair value, but they get the car. Then they can sell it to a rebuilder or a recycler, and their cost is the net (cost to pay you minus what they get). If that’s less than the cost to repair it, they total it. A car like this is worth quite a bit to a recycler because there are lots of good parts like the entire drivetrain and the front clip. Lots of demand for grill and fenders and hood as used parts, and the airbags and the doors are valuable too.

Simply put, if it will cost more to repair to ‘like new’ condition than its blue book value, then the insurance company will call it totaled, and pay out the blue book value.

Actually insurance companies DON’T have to repair to the Like New condition. Only to the condition it was before the accident. That’s why many older cars USED parts are specified…NOT NEW.