What Happens When Your Car Is Totaled But Still Driveable?

Sarah Edwards


Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 4 mins

A collision or other covered event, such as theft or a natural disaster, could result in expensive damage to your vehicle. If you or an at-fault party has insurance covering the damage to the vehicle, the insurer will evaluate the damage and decide how to pay you. If the vehicle suffered minor damage, the insurer will pay to repair the vehicle.

The insurer can also declare the vehicle a total loss. When an insurer “totals” a car, it means the repair cost exceeds the vehicle's replacement cost. In other words, the decision to total a car is purely an economic decision, not a reflection of its driveability. What happens when your car is totaled but still drivable?

Total Loss of a Vehicle

An insurer will declare a vehicle a total loss when it saves money by doing so. For example, your vehicle might need $10,000 in repairs after a crash. In its undamaged state, its fair market value is $9,000. The insurance company will pay the least amount by totaling the car and paying you $9,000 rather than paying $10,000 to repair it.

To complicate matters even further, some states allow insurance companies to total a car when the repair costs exceed a predetermined percentage of the replacement cost. Thus, a state could allow insurers to total a vehicle when the repairs exceed 80% of its value.

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Options After an Insurer Totals Your Car

There are many possible answers to the question, “What happens when your car is totaled but still drivable?”

When an insurer totals your car, you have several options. These options may depend on your insurance coverage and whether your claim was filed with your insurer or the at-fault driver’s insurer. You also have more options if the car is still drivable.

Take the Insurance Payout

If your auto insurance policy includes collision and comprehensive coverage, the insurer will inspect your vehicle and get estimates for its repair. Upon declaring it a total loss, it will offer you the vehicle’s actual cash value minus your deductible. The cash value will not include any aftermarket customizations unless you add them to your policy.

After a crash where someone else was at fault, their liability insurer will pay you. Importantly, the liability insurer will not subtract any deductible from the actual cash value. The insurer will also cover any personal property destroyed in the crash. For example, if your eyeglasses were in the car, you can include them in your claim.

However, the at-fault driver’s liability insurer will only pay up to the policy limits even if your losses exceed that cap. An insurer that issued a liability policy with $35,000 in property damage coverage will only pay $35,000 after totaling your $60,000 SUV.

When you agree that the car is not worth saving, you can take the insurance payout. What happens when your car is totaled after you take the insurance check? In that situation, the insurance company will take what remains of your car to a salvage yard.

Scrap the Car

A salvage yard will pay you the scrap value of the car. If you do not have collision or comprehensive coverage, the money you get from scrapping the car can go toward replacing it.

If you have collision or comprehensive coverage or someone else was at fault for your crash, the insurer will pay you even if you keep the car. You will receive the actual cash value minus the scrap value. Your insurer will also subtract the deductible.

Sometimes, you can come out ahead by scrapping it yourself. If the insurer assumes the scrap value is $1,000 and your salvage yard offers $1,500, you earn an extra $500 for taking it to the scrap yard.

Sell the Car or Trade It In

You can sell your vehicle to a private party or trade it in at a dealership. A private sale will usually net more money, but finding a buyer takes time. You should disclose the crash in the listing so the buyer knows the state of the car.

Again, when you keep the car, the insurer will still pay you the actual cash value minus the scrap value and, if the payout came from your insurer, the deductible.

What happens when your car is totaled but still drivable? In that case, taking the payout and selling the car will often get you the most money.

Drive the Car

If the car is in a safe condition, you can drive your car after the insurer totals it. You should have the vehicle checked by a mechanic to find any hidden hazards like exhaust leaks. If your mechanic gives you the green light, you can continue to drive it even after taking a payout from your insurer or the at-fault driver’s insurer.

Repair the Car

You do not need to scrap your car after the insurance company totals it. You can repair the car even though the insurer decided it was not worth repairing. This option often makes sense when you plan to perform the repairs.

Learn More About Your Insurance Options

Insurance companies are not always upfront about what happens when your car is totaled but still drivable. You can dig into your policy and still not understand your rights after the insurer declares your car a total loss.

To better understand your options, file for a free claim review with ConsumerShield today.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Collision coverage pays for crash damage. Comprehensive coverage pays for other kinds of damage, such as theft or natural disasters. When you only have liability coverage, your insurer will not repair or replace your totaled car. If someone else caused the damage, their liability coverage will pay you.

  • You may wonder what to do when your car is totaled and you still owe money on it. Your insurance covers the car’s actual value — regardless of the loan balance. If the payout doesn’t cover the remainder of the loan, you must pay the difference unless you have gap insurance.

  • Deciding between having your car totaled or repaired usually depends on the extent of the damage and your insurance claim. If you can’t get enough money from your insurance to repair it, you might be better off declaring it as a total loss and getting money to purchase a replacement.

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