If a vehicle is deemed totaled by the insurance company, can you still choose to fix it?

UPDATED: Jun 17, 2014

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If a vehicle is deemed totaled by the insurance company, can you still choose to fix it?

The other day, my car was legally parked street side near my place of business. It is an older pickup with lots of miles but it runs really well. It was plowed from behind by a garbage truck which pushed it onto the sidewalk. The damage looks bad, but it is all on the truck bed and not the frame. The driver of the garbage truck says that his foot slipped off the brake. He called the police himself before I even got outside and he was ticketed. The insurance adjuster came today to look at it and says the car is fixable, but due to the age of the vehicle he would call it a total loss and give me a check for between $300 and $400 and would give me an exact number tomorrow.

Asked on June 17, 2014 under Accident Law, New York


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

"When the car insurance company “totals” your car this means they consider it to be completely wrecked. This means they feel your car has been damaged so much that it would cost them more to have it repaired than what they consider the vehicle to be worth. In this case the car insurance company will pay you the determined cash value of the vehicle at the time of the accident. Some car insurance companies will consider your car to be totaled if the damage will cost 51% more than the value of the car while other car insurance companies will total your car out if the damage goes over 80%. This is something you should consider when you are choosing your car insurance policy. Once your car is totaled out, your car will go to a salvage yard. This salvage yard will then auction off your car where there are bidders looking for parts more than they are looking to actually repair the car. Whatever is paid for the car is given to the car insurance company.

If you don’t want this to happen, you can let your claim adjuster know that you would like to keep the car. Your car insurance company will still have to pay you the actual cash value for your car minus the deductible you agreed to pay should you have to file a claim as well as the estimated amount the car insurance company would have gotten for the car had it been sold at an auction in a salvage yard. You will then be responsible for the repair of the car. The best thing to do if you are in this situation is to make your decision early on. If you choose not to keep your car after it has been totaled out and then change your mind, you will have a harder time trying to purchase your car from the auction than if you were to inform the car insurance company before they even get a chance to auction off your car.

This may seem simple enough, however you could face a roadblock. If you have a newer car and the parts are worth a lot of money the car insurance company may not give you the option to keep your car after they total it out. They may very well want to auction it off because it would be beneficial for them. If this is to happen to you, you may have a chance at buying your car from the actual auction. In some states you can just attend the auction and purchase what you want. However, in other states you may need a special auto brokers license in order to attend the auction and purchase your car back.

Keeping your car after it has been totaled out is a very big step and should be thought out carefully. You should consider the cost of the repairs that will need to be done as well as the cost of having to reinsure the car again. There are many car insurance companies that will not insure a car if it can’t pass the inspection given by your local Department of Motor Vehicles. If it does pass, you should be able to find a car insurance company that will give you liability coverage, but it may be harder for you to get comprehensive and collision coverage on your car. All of these things should be considered before you decide to keep your old car and repair it yourself.

The best place to find a list of your rights as a policyholder is the website for your state’s government. From there, search for the department of insurance and then look for more information on the fair settlement of car insurance claims. All states regulate auto insurance companies to an extent in order to protect consumers from getting cheated when they file a claim." And you need to watch about re registered a "salvaged" vehicle. Good luck.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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