Can You Keep Your Totaled Car? It Depends...

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You might be able to keep your totaled car, depending on state laws and whether or not a lienholder is on the car title.
But even if you’re allowed to keep your totaled car, that does not mean you can drive it. Once a car is deemed a total loss it receives a salvage title and cannot be driven. To be driven again, the car must be repaired, pass inspection, and be given a rebuilt title.
At that point, you’ll need to find car insurance before taking your rebuilt salvage car out for a spin. Jerry is an AI-powered car insurance broker and comparison shopping app that will help you snag a great insurance policy at an affordable price.
Once you sign up—which takes all of 45 seconds—you’ll be able to sort through more than 40 competitive quotes from top insurers. Jerry will sign you up to the policy of your choice and cancel your old policy for you.
Once your total loss-turned-rebuilt ride is ready to roll, Jerry’s got your back. Here’s what you need to know about keeping your totaled vehicle.
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What is a totaled car?

A car is deemed totaled or a total loss post-accident, when an insurer determines that the cost of fixing the car is more than the car’s pre-accident value.
The total loss threshold varies by state and insurer, but it’s usually between 60% and 90% of a car’s pre-crash value.
If your car is deemed totaled, your insurer will issue you a check for the actual cash value (ACV) of the car and then auction it off to be salvaged for parts. The ACV is based on several factors:
  • Make and mode
  • Condition of the car before the accident
  • Mileage
No matter how much you want to keep your totaled car, if it’s a total loss and can’t be repaired safely, it might be best to cut your losses and take your insurer’s money.
Key Takeaway Total loss thresholds vary by state and insurer, but they usually fall between 60% and 90% of a car’s pre-collision value.

What to consider before keeping a totaled car

You might be asking, What if I want to keep my total loss vehicle?
If you really want to keep your totaled car—maybe it has sentimental value and you want to repair it, you want to salvage parts from it, or you just like broken stuff (no judgment)—you’ll first need to find out if your state allows you to keep a totaled car. Your insurer will be able to help you get an answer, so ask them.
If you own the car and your state allows owners to take possession of a total loss, your insurer will pay you the ACV of the car, minus a deductible and the car’s salvage price. Then, the car will be yours.
If the car is owned by a lienholder, they will have final say on whether you can keep the car—not you.
Key Takeaway If your car is owned by a lienholder, they will ultimately decide if you can keep your totaled car—so long as that’s allowed in the state where you live.
If you end up keeping your totaled car to fix it yourself or strip it for parts, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

Repair costs

Ask yourself—is it really worth it to keep the car and pay the costs to fix it?
You’ll want to get a totaled car examined by a reputable mechanic to determine if it’s possible to repair the car and how much those repairs will cost. If the cost is prohibitive and you aren’t handy, you’re wasting your time.
If you happen to be a car expert—as in, you’re a professional mechanic or you really know your stuff—you can always take it upon yourself to fix the car up to road-worthy form.
Even if you manage that feat, you won’t be able to take your rebuilt car out for a victory joyride just yet—it will still technically be a salvage title car, which can’t be driven. Your rebuilt ride will have to pass DMV muster before you’ll be able to insure the car and drive it.

Inspection

Ultimately, the DMV has final say on whether your formerly-totaled car can be driven after being rebuilt.
Even if you (or your trusted mechanic) manage to defy the laws of automotive nature and rebuild a total wreck into (near) pristine condition, your state needs to sign off on those repairs before you can look for insurance. If the DMV gives the go-ahead and deems the car safe, it will be rebranded as a rebuilt title car.
Key Takeaway Your state DMV has final say on whether a formerly-totaled and now-rebuilt car is safe to drive again.

Insurance

With the DMV’s green light, you can try and insure your now-rebuilt title car—though full coverage may be hard to find. You’ll be able to get liability insurance, but collision and comprehensive may prove more difficult.
The cold-blooded truth is that insurers see rebuilt title cars as inherently risky to insure. They deem it likely that there will be a claim filed on a rebuilt title car sooner rather than later, hence the hesitancy to offer full coverage. You’ve been warned!

Resale value

Perhaps this is unsurprising, but the resale value of a car that was totaled is not exactly top-tier. A salvage title drops the resale value by an estimated 20% to 40%, if not more.
So, don’t be surprised if it’s hard to find a buyer for your wreck. And if you do find a buyer, they’ll likely want to strip it for parts. We know, we know—it was such a great car! This may be true, but look at it…
For this reason alone, it may be a good idea to take the insurer’s money when they deem it a total loss.

State laws

Of course, if your state doesn’t allow an owner to keep possession of a total loss, then you’ve got no choice—you won’t be able to keep the car.
If your state’s rules do allow you to keep a totaled car, then it is up to you to talk to your insurer about reclaiming the car after it’s been written off.
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Can you drive a totaled car?

Perhaps not surprisingly, a salvage title car cannot be legally driven. True, it might be a feat if you’re even able to start the engine, but even in the case of such a minor miracle, do not take your salvage car on the road.
Your precious wreck must be repaired, inspected, deemed legally drivable, and labeled a rebuilt title car before you can attempt to insure it, let alone drive it.

Insuring your car with Jerry

So, you managed to pull off the (near)impossible feat of rebuilding a total wreck and the DMV has determined that it’s safe to drive. Now it’s time to get car insurance for your reconstructed ride.
While finding full coverage for a rebuilt title car may be difficult, Jerry gives you the best chance at securing great coverage for your car at a good price.
This free car insurance broker and comparison shopping app will generate up to 45 quotes from top insurers after a lightning-quick sign-up process. Jerry does all the heavy lifting—all you’ll need to do is pick your policy and Jerry will do the rest. No forms, no phone calls, and no hassles.
Best of all? Jerry users save an average of $879 per year!
“Really happy I bumped into this app. I’d been with the same company for over 5 years and it never occurred to me to quote another company. I went through Jerry and when I saw I could save $180 a month for the same policy! I finished the transaction through the app and I’m very happy with the results! Thank you, Jerry!” — Satisfied Jerry user

FAQs

Can I keep a car that is a total loss?

Whether you’re allowed to keep a total loss vehicle depends on your state laws and whether you’re the titleholder or whether a lienholder owns the car.

Is it worth fixing a totaled car?

Ultimately, this is up to you. If you really want to keep your totaled car (and your state allows it), you’ll be the judge of whether it’s worthwhile to try and fix it. If a professional mechanic deems the car beyond repair, it is probably not worth it to spend the money to fix it.
That said, if you have the knowledge and skills to fix a totaled car, you can do your best to repair it. Of course, the DMV will have the last word on your former wreck-of-a-car’s roadworthiness and whether your hard work and money-spent were all for naught—or not.
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