What determines a car is "totaled"?

I was in a fairly severe collision last night, in which someone basically made a dumb move and turned head-on into my car.

I walked away bruised but intact, and my car took the brunt of it (2005 Honda CRV EX). Airbags fired, and the front bumber, side fender, hood all sustained damaged. You could see the front left point of the frame, around which the car “crumpled”. Radiator was leaking and there was power stearing fluid also pooling. Hard to tell if there was any other fluid, as I left the scene to get checked out at the hospital.

The car will be evaluated by the insurance company’s adjuster (Geico) but I am curious about a few things:

  1. Is there a specific formula that determines when a car is totaled versus “repairable”?
  2. Does the fact that the air bags fired/deployed factor in?
  3. Do I even want to keep the car if it is fixed up given that there was some significant front end damage and possible frame damage?

Thanks… oh, always wear your seatbelts!

(edited to add: I live in Pennsylvania, if that helps with question #1)

A car is totaled when the cost to repair is more then the cost of the payout; simple as that. If your car is worth $10,000 to the insurance company (current value of your car) and it would cost $8,000 to repair, they’re going to repair.

Car repair is pretty good these days, they can fix lots of stuff back to near factory condition. No one can guaranty there won’t be lingering after effects from the accident and repair, but if you want to go that route you may be spending money out of pocket.

It means the repair costs to fix it are more than the total value of the car, hence the term. See here.

It just means they have to pay to replace them, which adds to the repair bill.

Insurance companies used a sliding percentage of value to determine if a vehicle is totalled, the newer the vehicle, the more they will spend. The maximum most insurance companies will go is about 75 to 80 percent and thats on low mileage newer cars. The percentage slides down to about 40 to 50 percent for cars about 12 years old. Anything older gets totalled no matter the cost of repair. One of the biggest factors in determing whether a vehicle is worth repairing will be the depreciated value after repairs. If a car is worth $10,000 before an accident and it will cost $8000 to repair, but he vehicle will be worth only $7000 due to DV, it will be totalled. When I was rear ended last year, the insurance company determined it would cost about $3500 to fix my $6500 Toyota pickup so they totalled it.

Airbags going off does not determine if a car is totalled. My step daughter hit a light pole and her’s went off. Her insurance company replaced the airbags.

Till the vehicle is checked out by a body shop, it will be hard to determine if you want to keep the vehicle. Modern body shops have frame machines that can bring a vehicle back to factory specs no problem. With unitbody vehicles such as your CRV, you have to worry about the entire body shell, if it is tweaked that can cause problems down the road. Check the gaps between the doors and body, if these are not straight, you will want to point this out to both the body shop and insurance company.

A quick correction, I used the term depreciated value, I meant diminished value.

However, the figure they quote (and when the say the car is totalled, they *are *quoting a figure) is not final. You can negotiate, or appeal.

I need to tell your this as although Geico has reasonable rates and very cute commercials, they are (in my personal experience) very bad at paying out. Is Geico your company or the other guys?

I suggest you find a reputable (Friend of a Friend?) Personal Liability Attorney and consult him.

Loss of income, pain and suffering, medical expenses, and a better damage payout are all things you can get.

Paging Inigo Montoya!!!

'ello. Somesimes a car is totaled if is damaged capo ferro, others if it is a newer model for which parts will be in great demand the only option is total via a “ninth parry” settlement…

Sorry about that. What makes a car a total loss? Kinda depends on the company you’re dealing with and whether or not they insure YOUR car or if the car they insure smacked yours. There are probably as many methods of making that call as there are insurance companies, but there is one constant: cost.

Bluntly, insurance companies want to pay as little as possible on a given claim. This doesn’t mean that they will scrimp on quality of repair and materiel (reputable companies don’t anyway, but that’s another topic). It means that if the net cost to repair the vehicle exceeds the net cost to total it, it’s gonna get totalled.

So what determines “net cost to repair”? It is the cost to repair the car + diminished value (if owed–another thread) + loss of use/rental expense (sometimes–another thread). “Net cost to total” is determined by what is going to be paid for the vehicle, minus what the vehicle is worth to the insurance company as salvage. See, insurance companies have to do something with the wreck they’ve just bought, so they sell them, usually at auction, to parts guys, rebuilders, Mexican taxi firms (no, really!), or just folks who want a project car. The salvage value is affected in part by the age of the car: newer cars will have a greater demand as parts cars than say, an 88 Nova. This may give the impression of a sliding scale like racer72 brought up. So an example is in order:

2005 Honda CRV EX = $20,000
Cost to repair = $12,500 (airbags run about $1k each by the way and are often the “cause” of a total loss)
Cost of rental if repaired (for the 20 days in the shop) = $700
Cost of rental if totalled (for the 10 days it will take to make a total loss offer) = $350
Value of the vehicle as salvage = $5,700

Net cost to repair = $12,500 + $700 = $13,200
Net cost to total = $20,000 + $350 - $5,700 = $14,650
*** viola! repairable. Maybe.

See, we know from experience that the $12,500 estimate to repair is very likely to increase once repairs have begun. Usually 10-30% due to parts price changes, damage that wasn’t discovered until the shop started tearing the car down, etc. So when a car is this close to totalling, I would calculate the estimate as something like $15,000 which would result in a total loss.

Also, even if it’s not a total by the numbers it can still be declared a “structural total” if there is significant damage to the firewall or if there is some other mechanical or legal factor which precludes the safe repair of the car.

Some companies DO use a “70% of value threshhold” but it’s really just a shortcut–they reckon they will, on average, realize a salvage value of about 70% of the pre-loss value of the car. This goes out the window when damage is purely cosmetic as in damage caused by hail, some vandalism, wind-driven debris, etc. As you might expect, the salvage value of an arguably “undamaged” car is going to be higher. So if your same Honda CRV gets $10,000 in hail damage, it’s going to total because the salvage value is likely to be in the neighborhood of $12-15k. Yes, if you don’t mind a few dimples on your car, head down to the local salvage auction a couple weeks after a major hailstorm and get yourself a 2005 CRV for $12k instead of $20k. Depending on which state you’re in, you may even get a clean (no salvage brand) title.

I think I’ve left something or other out of this post, but you get the idea I think.

Shit. I mean they expect a 30% return as salvage. Carry on.

Glad you’re ok.

If you can let us know what the estimates for replacing the air bags are. Do you feel they helped you more than just seatbelts?

Thank you, Inigo Montoya for providing what this forum actually asks for: the Straight Dope on a general question. :slight_smile: (I complain often enough when people just guess, I believe I ought to start applauding the good answers) :smiley:


I will keep you posted once the claims adjuster does his work and the estimate is online for me to see.

It was a horrific crash, as the other driver basically yanked the wheel to make a left in front of me at such a “last minute” that she hit me head-on at 11 o’clock… she must have sped up instead fo slowed down to make the turn, and there as no warning or blinker. So, for me, I was driving and all of a sudden there was an airbag in my face and a stopped car on my bumper.

I ended up with belt marks across my chest/stomach, strong enough to cut me on my stomach. This was from seatbelt alone, but I “travelled” a shorter distance in the car due to the air bag.

Airbag, while it burned and bruised my forearm (pushing my right arm up and back), definitely stopped any forward movement of my body or head, and likely prevented a lot of hurt. (Anecdotally, I’m really sore today and had x-rays of my elbow, shoulder, and neck, all of which are killing me.)

Two cars hit head-on without brakes at @25mph each, and stopped from 25-0 in about 6 inches… I continued to travel forward when my car stopped, and the airbag allowed me to stop in fewer inches and with better padding (otherwise, I may have moved forward more, been stopped solely by the belt and perhaps the steering wheel)… So, there was less stretching and shearing of neck and possibly nerves… I would say “air bag definitely helped”. Hard to know for sure, but both drivers’ airbags deployed and both walked away.

Have you consulted an attorney yet? I suggest you do so ASAP.

Thanks. Already been done.