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Although most people think of a totaled car as severely damaged and headed straight to a junkyard, auto insurance companies define totaled as any situation where it will cost more to repair than the car is worth.

Totaled cars may still be drivable; hail damage, for example, can result in a total loss. Regardless of how your car is totaled, you do have options when it comes to what happens with that car.

Below, we’ll discuss your options after a total loss, what happens when your car is totaled and still drivable and how state laws affect what you can do with a totaled vehicle.

What is a totaled car?

The term totaled means that the car is a total loss, which is the official terminology the insurance company will use. A total loss means that the insurance company is not going to repair your car; it's been determined that it's not worth the expense.

If you have the right insurance (collision or comprehensive, depending on the reason for the total loss), your insurance company will instead pay out the actual cash value of the car before it was damaged. 

Key takeaways

  • Your insurance company may decide your damaged car is totaled if repairs would cost more than the car is worth.
  • It’s possible for a car to be totaled and still be drivable, such as after severe hail damage.
  • You can keep your car if permitted by state laws. The insurance total loss payout will be reduced by the salvage value of the car.
  • You can also appeal the insurance company’s total loss settlement to get more money for your totaled car.

What if insurance wants to total my car but I want to keep it?

The company will determine the value of your car, including depreciation, and, as long as you have the right coverage, they’ll send you a settlement check. But it doesn’t have to end there. If you're not sure what to do when a car is totaled, you have a few options.

  1. Take the payout. If you’re good with the check and ready to move on, cash it and go car shopping. Your insurance company will keep the car and likely sell it to a salvage yard.
  2. Appeal the settlement. If you think the payout is too low, you can appeal the insurance company’s settlement and try to get more money for the car.
  3. Keep your salvaged car. Some states will allow you to keep the car. The salvage value of the car (what the insurance company would get from selling it to a salvage yard) will be deducted from your settlement check. If you choose to keep it, you can:
  • Sell it to a junkyard. Most junkyards will buy salvaged cars for scrap metal. The upside is they will also usually transport it for you.
  • Trade it in. Some dealerships will accept trade-ins with a salvage title, though you're not going to get the best amount for it.
  • Repair it yourself. If you really want to keep your car, you can repair it yourself. If the damage is mainly cosmetic, like hail damage, it may not even need repairs. However, insurance costs for a salvage title are usually higher.
  • Donate it to charity. If all else fails, you could donate the vehicle to charity and claim a tax credit. Charities accept donations of cars even if they aren’t drivable.

When is a car considered totaled?

When exactly do insurance companies total a car?

Simply put, the definition of totaled is that the repairs are expected to cost more than the car's value, it will be totaled.

Your insurance adjuster will note your mileage, the condition of the body, interior and tires, and any additional parts or equipment you've added. Then, based on the pre-crash condition of your car, your adjuster will find similar models for sale in your area and establish the total loss estimate on these comparable cars. This is called the Actual Cash Value (ACV) of your car.

Your insurance company may decide your damaged car is a total loss if:

  • It can't be repaired safely
  • Repairs would cost more than the car is worth, or
  • State laws determine the exact totaled car meaning based on a percentage of the car’s value or a specific calculation. This total loss threshold varies from 50% of the car's pre-accident value in Iowa to 100% in Texas. Many states use a Total Loss Formula (TLF): the cost of repairs plus the car's scrap value must equal or exceed the car's pre-accident value.

Below, you'll see total loss thresholds and Total Loss Formulas by state.

State Rule Law What you should know
ALABAMA75%Ala. Stat. § 32-8-87(d)Damage to vehicle is greater than 75% of fair retail value prior to damage. Vehicle is "salvage" when (1) frame or engine removed and not immediately replaced, or (2) when insurer has paid a total loss on vehicle. Insurer buys the vehicle from insured for the FMV* of the salvage and then applies to the state for salvage title..
ALASKATotal Loss Formula (TLF)Duty of insurance company obtaining title to unrepairable vehicle.Cost of repairing damage to the vehicle exceeds vehicle’s worth or insured value. No statutory definition of "salvage vehicle". Vehicle is "wrecked vehicle" when so disabled that can’t be used for primary function without substantial repair or reconstruction. Insurance company which "totals" vehicle must mark the word "junk" on the title and surrender the title to the state. This is true for either an "actual total loss" or a "constructive total loss"
Alaska Admin. Code tit. 2, § 92.170.
ARIZONATotal Loss Formula (TLF)A.R.S. § 28-2091(T)(4)Insurer determines if it is uneconomical to repair vehicle. It then is a salvage vehicle.
ARKANSAS70%A.C.A. § 27-14-2301(6)(B)Damage to vehicle greater than 70% of fair retail value prior to damage or vehicle is water damaged.
CALIFORNIATotal Loss Formula (TLF)Martinez v. Enter. Rent-A-Car Co., 13 Cal. Rptr.3d 857 (Cal. App. 2004).A vehicle is a total loss where the cost of repair exceeds the vehicle value prior to the repair of the vehicle.
Cal. Veh. Code § 544."Total Loss" means either of the following:
Cal. Veh. Code § 11515(a) A vehicle, other than a non-repairable vehicle, that has been damaged to the extent the insurance company considers it uneconomical to repair, and is not repaired; or
(b) A vehicle determined to be uneconomical to repair, for which a total loss payment has been made by an insurer, whether or not the vehicle is subsequently repaired, if prior to or upon making the payment, the insurer obtains the agreement of the claimant to the amount of the total loss settlement, and informs the client that, pursuant to subdivision (a) or (b) of § 11515, the total loss settlement must be reported to the DMV, which will issue a salvage certificate for the vehicle.
California defines a salvaged vehicle as one that has been either totally destroyed or damaged beyond what the insurance company is willing to pay to fix it, so the owner never gets the vehicle repaired. Depending on its condition, one of several things may happen to the car.
The first of these is that the title is exchanged for a Salvage Certificate issued by the DMV.
COLORADO100%C.R.S. § 42-6-102 (17)(C)Cost of repairing vehicle exceeds retail fair market value. Retail value is determined by sources accepted by the insurance industry, which is usually when cost of repair exceeds market value.
CONNECTICUTTotal Loss Formula (TLF)C.G.S.A. § 38a-353Insurer must use NADA** average and one additional approved source and constructive total loss is when cost to repair or salvage damage equals or exceeds the total value. Once declared "total loss" by insurer it is a "salvage vehicle".
DELAWARETotal Loss Formula (TLF)21 Del. C. § 2512Insurer determines if vehicle is a total loss. It is then transferred as "salvage vehicle".
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA75%D.C. Code § 50-1331.01(12)(A)Damage to vehicle exceeds 75% of retail value prior to the damage. No salvage law in D.C.
FLORIDATotal Loss in Florida involves when and under what circumstances a salvage title is required. "Salvage" means a motor vehicle or mobile home which is a total loss. A vehicle is a total loss when:F.S.A. § 319.30(1)(t)However, carrier can declare vehicle a total loss depending on whether they believe settling for total loss requires less money than cost of repair. It is a business decision. If insured and insurer agree to repair, rather than replace, vehicle is not total loss. However, if actual cost to repair exceeds 100% of replacement cost, vehicle must be branded "Total Loss Vehicle. "Therefore, vehicle can be repaired up to 100% of ACV before branding of title is required by statute. The "80%" simply means that if the cost to repair a damaged vehicle is 80% of its value or more, then if the vehicle is declared a total loss by the insurance company, that the salvage title returned on the salvage will be a "Certificate of Destruction" in the insurer’s name and not eligible to be rebuilt.
Insured Vehicle: When carrier pays the owner to replace the vehicle with one of like kind or when it makes payment upon theft of vehicle.F.S.A. § 319.30(3)(a)(1)(a)(b)Insurance company does not have to "total" a vehicle if the costs of the repairs exceed 80% of ACV. The statute doesn’t require it, but most companies used it as a rule of thumb.
Uninsured Vehicle: When the cost, at the time of loss, of repairing or rebuilding the vehicle is 80% or more of the cost of replacing the damaged motor vehicle with one of like kind.
GEORGIATotal Loss Formula (TLF)Ga. Code Ann. § 40-3-2 (11)Vehicle is damaged to the extent that its restoration to an operable condition requires replacing two or more major component parts.
HAWAIITotal Loss Formula (TLF)Haw. Rev. Stat. § 286-48Insurer determines if a vehicle is repairable or whether it is a total loss, and must have material damage to vehicle’s frame, unitized structure, or suspension system, and cost of repairing damage exceeds market value.
IDAHOTotal Loss Formula (TLF)Idaho Code § 49-123(2)(o)Cost of parts and labor minus the salvage value makes it uneconomical to repair or rebuild.
ILLINOISTotal Loss Formula (TLF)625 I.L.C.S. § 5/3-117.1(b)Insurer determines when vehicle is salvage/total loss. Must not be from hail damage or a vehicle that is nine model years or older. Vehicle is "salvage" when insurer makes total loss payment.
INDIANA70%I.C. § 9-22-3-3Cost to repair vehicle is greater than 70% of fair market value prior to damage or the insurer determines it is impractical to repair and makes total loss payment.
IOWA50%I.C.A. § 321.52(4)(d)Damage disclosure requirements kick in at 50%. If cost to repair vehicle is greater than 50% of ACV then the vehicle must have a damage disclosure on the title and it becomes "wrecked or salvage vehicle."
KANSAS75%K.S.A. § 8-197(b)(2)(B)Cost to repair vehicle is 75% more than the fair market value at the time immediately before it was wrecked.
KENTUCKY75%K.R.S. § 186A.520(1)(a)Cost of parts and labor to rebuild vehicle to pre-accident condition exceeds 75% as set forth in NADA** price guide.
LOUISIANA75%La. R.S. § 32:702(13)Damage equivalent to 75% or more of the market value as determined by NADA**.
MAINETotal Loss Formula (TLF)29-A M.R.S. § 602(19)Vehicle is "salvage" when insurer declares it a total loss or salvage title is issued. Owner transfers vehicle to insurer due to damage or owner determines it has no marketable value.
MARYLAND75%Md. Code, TransportationCost to repair vehicle exceeds 75% of the fair market value.
§ 11-152 (a)(1)
MASSACHUSETTSTotal Loss Formula (TLF)M.G.L.A. 90D § 1Insurer determines if it is uneconomical to repair the vehicle and the vehicle is not repaired.
MICHIGAN75%M.C.L.A. § 257.217c(2)(b)(i)If cost of repair, including parts and labor, is between 75% and 91% of the actual cash value, then a salvage title is given. It then is a "distressed vehicle."
MINNESOTA80%M.S.A. § 168A.151(b)(c)(3)Damage to late model vehicle (newer than six-years-old) or high value vehicle (over $5,000) exceeds 80% of its actual cash value.
MISSISSIPPITotal Loss Formula (TLF)M.C.A. § 63-21-33Vehicle cannot be more than 10 years old, have a value of less than $1,500 or damage that requires replacement of five or few minor components. Also, applies to vehicle which requires replacement of more than five minor component parts according to insurer.
MISSOURI80%Mo. Rev. Stat. § 301.010(51)(a)Vehicle less than 6 years old and if damaged exceeds 80% of the fair market value.
MONTANATotal Loss Formula (TLF)Mont. Code Ann. § 61-3-211Insurer determines if the vehicle is a total loss. It is "salvage vehicle" if insurer decides it is uneconomical to repair, considering parts and labor.
NEBRASKA75%Neb. Rev. Stat. § 60-171(6)(a)Late model vehicle damage exceeds 75% of the retail value at the time it was wrecked, damaged, or destroyed. "Late model vehicle" means a vehicle which has (a) a manufacturer's model year designation of, or later than, the year in which the vehicle was wrecked, damaged, or destroyed, or any of the six preceding years.
NEVADA65%N.R.S. § 487.790(1)(b)Vehicle damage exceeds 65% of the fair market value.
NEW HAMPSHIRE75%N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 261:22(VI)(b)Cost for vehicle repair is 75% or more of its fair market value prior to being damaged.
NEW JERSEYTotal Loss Formula (TLF)N.J.S.A. § 13:21-22.3Insurer determines if it is "economically impractical" to repair vehicle or cost of repairs is higher than the market value of the vehicle.
NEW MEXICOTotal Loss Formula (TLF)N.M.S.A. § 66-1-4.16(C)Insurer determines if it is uneconomical to repair vehicle.
NEW YORK75%15 NYCRR § 20.20(c)(ii)Cost for repair of vehicle made in 1973 or older is 75% or more of retail value prior to being damaged by a nationally recognized compilation of retail values.
NORTH CAROLINA75%N.C.G.S.A. § 20-71.3(d)Cost for vehicle repair is 75% or more of its fair market value prior to being damaged. Any vehicle totaled by insurance company must have title and registration card marked, "Total Loss Claim."
NORTH DAKOTA75%N.D.C.C. § 39-05-20.2Vehicle damage exceeds 75% of retail value of vehicle determined by NADA**. Glass and hail damage are excluded.
11 N.C. Admin. Code 4.0418
OHIOTotal Loss Formula (TLF)Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 4505.11(C)(1)Insurer determines if it is economically impractical to repair vehicle.
OKLAHOMA60%47 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 1111(C)(1)Cost to repair damage to vehicle exceeds 60% of fair market value.
OREGON80%O.R.S. § 801.527(3)Damage to vehicle is equal to or more than 80% of retail market value.
PENNSYLVANIATotal Loss Formula (TLF)75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 102Extent of repairs to vehicle would exceed the value of the repaired vehicle. Doesn’t include antique or classic cars.
RHODE ISLANDTotal Loss Formula (TLF)R.I.G.L. § 31-46-1.1Insurer decides if a vehicle is totaled, there are two classifications, A and B. A is the vehicle is good for parts only and B is the vehicle is repairable.
SOUTH CAROLINA75%S.C. Code Ann. § 56-19-480(G)Cost of repairing the vehicle exceeds 75% of the fair market value of the vehicle.
SOUTH DAKOTATotal Loss Formula (TLF)S.D.C.L. § 32-3-51.19Insurer or self-insurer determines a total loss.
TENNESSEE75%T.C.A. § 55-3-211(9)(A)Damage to vehicle equal to or more than 75% of retail market value as determined by current published retail costs.
TEXAS100%Tex. Transp. Code § 501.091(15)If total cost of repairs exceeds ACV of vehicle, then it is a salvage vehicle.
UTAHTotal Loss Formula (TLF)U.C.A. § 41-1a-1005Insurer makes decision whether a vehicle is declared a non-repairable vehicle. Or, two or more major components suffer major damage.
VERMONTTotal Loss Formula (TLF)Vt. Stat. Ann. Tit. 23, § 2001(14)Insurer makes decision whether a vehicle (less than 10 years old) is declared a total loss.
VIRGINIA75%Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-1602.1Cost to repair late model vehicle exceeds 75% of ACV prior to vehicle being damaged, then vehicle is issued a non-repairable certificate or a salvage certificate.
WASHINGTONTotal Loss Formula (TLF)R.C.W.A. § 46.04.514Insurer determines whether cost of parts and labor plus salvage value has made it uneconomical to repair and vehicle must be more than 6 years old.
WEST VIRGINIA75%W. Va. St. § 17A-4-10(a)Cost to repair vehicle is greater than 75% of market value determined by a nationally accepted used car value guide.
WISCONSIN70%Wis. Stat. § 342.065(1)(c)Damage exceeding 70% of fair market value will render vehicle less than seven model years old a salvage vehicle. This only applies "If the vehicle is less than 7 years old, is damaged by collision or other occurrence to the extent that the estimated or actual cost, whichever is greater, of repairing the vehicle exceeds 30% of its fair market value and was transferred to an insurer upon payment of an insurance claim."
Wis. Stat. § 342.06(1)(hr)
WYOMING75%Wyo. Stat. § 31-2-106(v)For vehicle to be in pre-accident condition, labor to rebuild and parts exceed 75% of ACV of vehicle.

*Fair market value

**National Automobile Dealers Association

Frequently asked questions: Totaled cars

How long does it take to get the insurance check for a totaled car?

Most companies will issue payment within a few days of finalizing the actual cash value.

Who gets the insurance check when a car is totaled?

If you financed the car, the payoff amount goes to the finance company or bank, and you get the rest. If you own the car yourself, you get the entire check.

What happens if a leased car is totaled?

With a leased car, the insurance policy will pay out the car's value. That amount is first to go to cover any outstanding payments. Typically, with a leased car, money is still owed to the lease company.

What happens when your car is totaled but still drivable?

If your car is totaled, you will need a salvage title to drive again. However, the legality of driving with a salvage title varies across states. It is best to check with your state's Department of Motor Vehicles to know the salvage car laws. 

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