What the hail, I'm keeping the car
July 1, 2009 7:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm the owner of a 2002 Toyota Corolla which just hit 107,000 miles. On June 9th while I was at work, my car got hammered by some pretty large hail. The damage was enough that my insurance (Progressive) declared it a total loss. My frugal heart couldn't bear to have them tow away a perfectly drivable car, so I took the lesser payout (just under $5000) and kept it. Now what?

Some pics can be seen here, although I had a lot of trouble getting the dents to show up well, and it looks worse in person. There are some cracks in the paint starting to show up near the front fender dent and on the trunk, so PDR won't work in those areas. The windshield was a safety issue, and has already been fixed.

I'm rather confused about getting a salvage title. The guy at the shop where I replaced my windshield said I didn't need to get one, and from my reading of this Kansas statute cosmetic stuff like hail damage is exempt. However, the lady at the titles office in Topeka said yes, I needed to get one, and an insurance agent from another agency confirmed this. I'm hoping to move by the end of the year, so how would a Kansas salvage title affect trying to register the car in another state?

I've already started to put some money into an account for the next car, and my original plan was to bank almost all of the insurance money, and continue to put a small amount in each month. In 2-3 years, the account would be in the 5 figure range and I could get a fairly nice used car for cash.

However, I've started to second guess myself. The insurance agent I talked to above seemed to assume I'd get it fully fixed, as he told me to keep the receipts in case I have to file a claim again with my insurance. There are many "hail specialist" tents around town, and they probably could fix at least a few of the bigger dents for less than my original estimate. Or is this throwing good money after bad?

If I do continue driving it as a dented up car (with a probable salvage title), how much money should I put into it in the future? Obviously, I'd want to keep it road worthy with oil changes and other maintenance, but what about the minor annoyances? For instance, my brake pads that I got replaced last August are squeaking, despite being in for adjustments several times already. Is it worth the time and money to try and get rid of the squeak?

Thanks, and sorry this was so long.
posted by weathergal to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Vacuum dent puller, and a variation on this theme.
posted by hortense at 8:20 PM on July 1, 2009

Keep the cash, only pay for maintenance of the vehicle/usual wear and tear (brake pads, rotors, etc), and drive the car into the ground. You can get touch up paint for the cracks.
posted by jerseygirl at 8:26 PM on July 1, 2009

You could put those little bullet hole stickers over each dent.
posted by mecran01 at 8:31 PM on July 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think you have to get a salvage title once your insurance company writes off the car as totaled - at least, that's what happened to me, but I live in Ohio.

In my case, "totaled" merely meant that the cost of the body repairs was going to be more than the current value of the car, a '91 Volvo. (Some 18 year old fool tried to back out of his driveway without brakes, and smashed into the left rear side of my car.) They wanted to take the car, I said no, give me the payout for totalling it, and I'll keep the car and get a salvage title, thankyouverymuch. That was about 4 years ago - we just pulled most of the body damage out ourselves, it still runs like a champ.

I would say, in your case, replace the brakes. If something major happens (engine, transmission, etc...) I would consider selling the car for parts, donating it, or junking it.

Last bit - I had to have an inspection to get the salvage title - they checked to make sure it was road-worthy, basically - but that was no big deal.
posted by HopperFan at 9:00 PM on July 1, 2009

The Salvage Title is a bit of a misnomer, as HopperFan pointed out. Also, (at least in Ohio), after the inspection, you take your salvage title back to the title office, and assuming your inspection was fine, they give you a Clean title. Sure, it will show as totalled on the CarFax report for your VIN, but the title shows clean.

I had my 94 cavalier financially totalled thanks to a fender-bender with an uninsured motorist. They gave me the $700 payout and I pocketed the cash. When I moved to IL and got an IL title, it showed as just a normal title. My insurance actually dropped with a totalled car (Progressive would only give me Liability coverage after the total).

I say drive that bastard into the ground. Keep up with regular maintenance as normal. As far as major repairs, that's when you have to ask yourself which is worth more for you. I stopped paying for stuff on my cavalier when it developed a water leak from the outside and I didn't feel like finding it. Replace things as they need to be replaced as if the car wasn't totalled, because really, it was just a monetary thing anyway, as you stated.

You'll be fine!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 9:57 PM on July 1, 2009

If you only plan to have this car another two or three years why bother? It's not going to rust to the point that the frame will be damaged by then. You'll have a perfectly fine, albeit rusty, car. Unless you have high hopes to sell it (in which case I'd still say don't bother, since it'll be a ten year old car with 130,000 miles or so on it, no one looking in that range is expecting cosmetic perfection).

Your car just passed 100,000 miles, you're bound to have something else come up in the next year or two that will NEED to be fixed. Even if it's just something like the brake and fuel lines being rotted out from age. Why dump money on cosmetic stuff into a car that age? Just get a tube of touch up paint for the major chipped spots.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:39 PM on July 1, 2009

I used to have an industrial engineer friend who said "The value of an item is the least cost you would have to spend to obtain its primary function. Anything beyond that is emotional." By that criteria, you win big!

Fix it yourself if you really hate the look. Where you live, I am sure it's not uncommon to see this. Here in New England, it's minor rust, scratches, and year-round dirty. It's no negative reflection on your character, but driving a dented Jag will get you more attention than a dented Toyota for the usual reasons.

Break squeaks for a number of reasons. You should be able to get a brake job for a few hundred bux. At 100K miles, you're ready for a brake job if you haven't had one. They wear out.
posted by FauxScot at 2:57 AM on July 2, 2009

You're going to be stuck with the hail dents. Any attempt to repair or pull the dents will only result in a different sort of damaged look.

107,000 miles is nothing for that car, so you should be able to get several more years of service from it. Sure, there will be the normal, expected maintenance work, but, if you can accept the dents, you'll be happily motoring for a good long time.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:33 AM on July 2, 2009

The concept of the salvage title has different meanings in different states. When you say "title office", are you talking about the actual State agency, or some other currency exchange type of place?

Common sense says you shouldn't have to get a salvage title- the car wasn't wrecked. Your insurance company just decided it would be cheaper to pay you off than fix it. Common sense also says that you won't be able to insure the car again (or at least not for cosmetic damage).

Another question: do you have the title now? Is it in your name? Then I don't see any reason why you need to change anything.

I *think* a salvage title is what the insurance company gets when they total a car, and take possession of it, and want to sell it off to someone else like a junkyard.
posted by gjc at 4:50 AM on July 2, 2009

I am driving a 1995 Toyota Corolla with 322,000 miles. I drive it 300 miles a week to and from work. It looks like hell, but it runs great. It's on its original transmission and its original engine. It needs work from time to time (brakes, windshield washed pump, etc). Toyota designed this car to run forever, implied by the face that the odometer doesn't roll over until a million miles.

Ignore the people who say that a car with more than 100,000 miles is best left for dead. Well-cared for (regular oil changes, yearly tune-ups, etc), your Corolla will give you many many miles of faithful service. (Side note: I always insist on Mobil 1 when I get oil changes. The results speak for themselves.)

As for replacing it, my formula is simple: When the yearly maintenance costs surpass what 12 months of car payments would be, it's time to think about getting another car.
posted by DWRoelands at 5:45 AM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

gjc, I am talking about a state agency, specifically the Titles and Registrations Bureau at the Kansas Department of Revenue. I don't have the title in hand as it is in a safe deposit box, but fortunately it is in my name and I don't have to deal with any lien holders.

It seems that every state handles titling differently, so I guess I'll just have to play it by ear and see how things go. If I show up at my local registration office with my title and a copy of the statute, they probably can tell me what needs to be done. I'm definitely not the only person around here who's had their car totaled from that storm.

Thanks for everyone's input. I know in my head that putting minimal money into the car is the right thing, but have been struggling with the "emotional" that FauxScot's friend talked about. When I bought the car 5 years ago, it was the nicest one I'd ever owned, so I think part of me is "mourning" the fact that it has joined the ranks of the beaters. Which is rather silly, since it still gets me from point A to point B very well.
posted by weathergal at 6:19 AM on July 2, 2009

I always wanted to try this dry ice solution to removing small dents but sold my old car before I could try it. It seems to help some and not others though so I guess it depends on the dent.
posted by any major dude at 7:36 AM on July 2, 2009

It won't improve the appearance of the car much to fix only some of the dents.

Get some bumper stickers printed up, "This car survived the [town name] hailstorm". Stick on on your car. Sell remaining stickers. Save money for future car.
posted by yohko at 8:20 AM on July 2, 2009

Hmm I say keep it. Corollas are great (i have a 2004 corolla). So it looks damaged. LEss you have to worry about . No big worries now if somebody dings it in a parking lot since its alreayd bashed up.

Less of a chance of it getting stolen.
posted by majortom1981 at 10:20 AM on July 2, 2009

Back in the 1970's one of my parents' cars was in a hailstorm. On the next ultra-hot San Antonio summer day, they all popped out spontaneously. Since yours aren't doing this, try the dent puller on the biggest ones, or maybe some Bondo. If you want to save money and have a passable (if not fabulous) paint job, go to Maaco or (shudder) Earl Scheib.
posted by Robert Angelo at 12:00 PM on July 2, 2009

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