End of the Road: When Is a Car Considered Totaled?

Accidents happen.

And really, that should be expected. With over 270 million cars registered in the US, it’s not surprising that we see an average of six million accidents every year.

However, not all accidents are equal, and it isn’t always obvious when an accident is so bad that you can consider your car “totaled.” What may seem like minor damage to you may seem like irreparable harm to your insurance agency. 

That’s why we put together this handy guide. If you’ve had a bad accident recently, read on to learn when is a car considered totaled, and what you can do about it.

When Is a Car Considered Totaled?

The most obvious idea of a car being totaled is when a car has been smashed up so badly that you can no longer drive it at all.

However, if the damage doesn’t seem that bad, things get more complicated. 

If you can drive your car away — or even if you can’t, but the visible damage seems minor — then your first job is to take your car to a mechanic to figure out what the cost of repairing your car will be.

While a mechanic is determining the cost of your repairs, you’ll need to figure out the actual cash value (ACV) of your car prior to the accident (a source like Kelley Blue Book should be a trusted one).

This is because the cost of the damage compared to the ACV is what your state government and your insurance company look at to determine when is a car considered totaled.

What can be frustrating is that not all states and insurance companies use the same value for deciding when a car is totaled. For example, the state of Alabama considers a car totaled “when the damage to a vehicle is equal to or greater than 75% of the value of the vehicle.”

A different state or your insurance company may go by a different percentage, so you will ultimately need to determine what percentage of the cost of repair is to the ACV they go by in deciding whether a car is totaled.

This means that a basic fender bender with an old car could leave you searching for how to junk a car.

What Can You Do with a Totaled Car?

If your car is totaled, there are a couple of things you can do with it. If you have the money and attachment, you can try repairing the car with your own money.

Otherwise, you can try selling it. There are companies that will buy a broken car for salvaging or parts. Your best bet may be finding one that will give you some value on what is left of your car.

So Is It Time to Move On?

It will take some research and some math, but depending on the value of your car and the policy of your insurance company and state government, even a small accident could mean your car is totaled.

If you find yourself in that position, it is time to find out what value you can still get from your car. 

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