How to Buy Your Car Back After it’s Totaled (and Not Regret It)It’s sometimes surprising how little damage it takes to “total” a vehicle. And it’s never any fun when the insurance adjuster tells you that you won’t be getting your car or truck back. But can you get it back? Technically, yes, often you can. But are you sure you want it back? That’s an important question to ask. A totaled vehicle buy-back can be a bad financial decision, but in some cases, the numbers can add up just fine, meaning that you’ll still receive a (smaller) insurance payout, providing you with plenty of cash to do repairs on the vehicle and keep driving it. In this article, we’ll share some tips on determining whether your vehicle is safe to buy back, and how to tell whether the numbers will make sense for you.
Is the Vehicle Mechanically Sound?The first question to ask, before we talk about moolah, is whether the vehicle is mechanically sound. This could be important for three reasons:
- Some types of damage, like a cracked frame, can go entirely undetected by adjusters and body shop technicians. It would ruin your day if a cracked frame broke the rest of the way while you were driving.
- If you plan to have bodywork done after buying the car back, some types of invisible damage may only become apparent when the work is being done. This can lead to suddenly astronomical repair bills.
The Arithmetic of Buying Your Totaled Car BackA big heads-up: It’s possible to put yourself in a tough financial spot with a buy-back. For one thing, you may have a more difficult time selling the vehicle later because it will be “branded” in a public database as “salvage” (or a similar word). That’s not necessarily a deal-killer, but it’s good to be aware of if you have new vehicle plans down the road. Your real concern should be hidden damage. Body shop technicians are generally pretty good at estimating repair costs, but there are some problems they simply can’t see until they take things apart. Damage like a cracked frame may not be visible, even if they’re looking right at it, so you should evaluate the type of damage your vehicle received during the collision and decide whether it may have stressed the frame (not every type of collision does). Damage to airbag systems can be invisible until they’re tested, and they cost upwardsMinor Collision Repair of $2,000 each to replace. Again, evaluate how likely it is that these areas were stressed during your collision before deciding to buy your vehicle back. So you can see how you might get into some deep water here. There’s no perfect advice on how worried you should be about hidden damage. Listen to the professionals, use your instincts and common sense, and may the force be with you.
Working Out the NumbersIf this article has scared you spitless, and you’ve decided not to buy your vehicle back, the insurance company will write you a check for the value of the vehicle at the moment of its untimely demise, minus the amount of your deductible. If your spit is intact, and you’re still interested in buying your vehicle back, read on. When you opt for the buy-back, the insurance company will subtract your deductible from their payout check. They’ll also deduct the vehicle’s salvage value. They could sell the car to a salvage company instead of selling it to you, and fair or not, they will expect you to pay the amount they would have received. The price tag you pay for the totaled vehicle will be based on its value in current, damaged condition. So here’s what the numbers look like:
Now you know how much cash you’ll have in hand, along with your damaged vehicle. The next question is whether it will be enough to cover repair costs. If the damage is entirely cosmetic, and you have no problem driving the vehicle in public as it is, this cost will be zero. But if you need to have repairs made to bring the car back to drivability or make it more visually presentable, it’s time to take it to a body shop and get some estimates. The repair cost is an area where you have some wiggle room because not all body shops charge the same amount of money for the same work. It’s possible that the high repair quotes that were presented to the insurance company—rendering the car a total loss—could be significantly reduced if you have the right kinds of damage and choose the right shop to do the work. This could put you in a financial “safe zone” of being able to buy the vehicle back, and still having enough insurance payout left over to do the repairs. So what kind of damage is eligible, and what kind of body shop are you looking for?