Is My Car Totaled?

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You’ll often hear about cars being “totaled,” but not many drivers actually understand what this means. This might come as a surprise, but your car does not have to be reduced to a pile of burnt scrap metal for it to be considered totaled. Instead, there are a lot of factors which go into determining if a car is totaled such as the age and type of vehicle and where you live.

Definition of a Totaled Car

Generally speaking, a vehicle is considered totaled if the repair costs exceed the vehicle value. However, this is actually only true in two states, Texas and Colorado. Another 26 states use repair cost percentages below 100%. For example, in Maryland if the cost to repair a car is 75% or more of the value of the vehicle then it is considered totaled. Then there are 22 other states, Pennsylvania included, which use what the insurance companies refer to as a “total loss formula.”

front end collision

With a total loss formula both the price of repairs and the scrap value of the car are taken into consideration. If the price of repairs + the scrap value is greater than or equal to the value of the vehicle it is totaled. Let’s say you have a car which is currently worth $5,000 and you get into an accident. The cost of repairs is $3,000 and the scrap value of your car is $2,500. $3,000 + $2,500 = $5,500, which means your car would be considered totaled under the total loss formula.

It’s also important to know that your insurance company may determine your car has been totaled even if the repair shop has not. If the cost to repair your car exceeds the “totaled” threshold in your state then it is mandated by law to be considered totaled. But, your insurance company will view the damage to your car from a different perspective. If it’s cheaper for them to declare your vehicle totaled, that’s what they’ll do even if you haven’t passed the threshold.

Damage Resulting in a Total Loss

Aside from what state you live in playing a role in whether your vehicle is considered totaled or not, the age of your car is also a factor. Older cars are more likely to be considered totaled after an accident. In fact, in 2015, only 6% of 1 year old cars were totaled while 32% of 10-15 year old cars were. The reason for this is because old cars are generally worth less, making it easier for repair costs to exceed the value of the vehicle.

Smaller vehicles are also more likely to be totaled after an accident because they cost less and typically receive more damage. Hitting a pole might not damage a large pickup truck or SUV to the point of being totaled, but a small sedan might not fair so well.

Airbag deployment

And just to cover our bases, no, if your airbags deploy it does not mean your car is automatically totaled. However, replacing airbags is one of the more expensive repairs, so if you drive an older car there is a good chance the cost of airbag replacement will put your vehicle beyond the threshold to be considered totaled.

What Happens After a Car is Totaled?

If your car is declared totaled by your insurance company it will be taken away for salvaging — after your personal effects are removed. This means the recyclable parts will be collected and the non-recyclable parts will be disposed of. At this point, your totaled vehicle is not considered your property any longer.

However, if you still want your car you can often buy it back from your insurance company along with the salvage title. While most people don’t do this, some do so they can work on their totaled car as a DIY project. This is especially true if the car in question was an antique or classic.

Can a Totaled Car be Repaired?

cracked windshield repair

Technically speaking, yes, your car may be able to be repaired even after it’s declared a total loss. But keep in mind that this is not always the case. Some cars are declared totaled because they are damaged beyond repair — especially when fire is involved. Also keep in mind that if your insurance company declares your car totaled they will not be paying for the repairs. You could use your insurance payout on the repairs, but that amount alone won’t be enough to cover it.

Something people also tend not to think about when considering buying back their car and having it repaired — either DIY or by a professional — is that it will be difficult to insure. Because totaled cars have a salvage title insurance companies will often either charge you more to insure it or will refuse to insure it in the first place. If you plan to buy back your totaled car, make sure you check with your insurance company about how it might affect your plan.


While the definition of a totaled car varies across state lines, here in Pennsylvania it depends on whether or not the cost of repairs and the scrap price of your vehicle surpass the value of the vehicle pre-crash. Older and smaller vehicles are also more likely to be totaled after a crash. However, just because your car is totaled doesn’t necessarily mean it is irreparable. You’ll have to buy back your car along with its salvage title, and you may have a hard time getting it insured, but in many cases it can still technically be repaired.

Repair Your Car with Zingani Collision

Has your vehicle been damaged in an accident? Zingani Collision call help get your car back on the road as if the accident never happened. Our skilled mechanics are not only committed to getting your car repaired quickly, but also ensuring that it’s safe for you and your passengers. Contact Zingani Collision today for a free repair estimate.