Crashed my car, should I fix or just get a new one?
January 11, 2013 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I've been on a cross country road trip for over 35 days, originally departing from Los Angeles. While driving back home, I got caught in a rain/thunderstorm in Louisiana and rear-ended the car in front of me. I only have liability insurance, so the other party is taken care of but I have to take care of my own busted car. I'm wondering if it's worth getting it fixed up or just getting a new car once I get back home.

My car is a Honda Accord 2004 with about 103,000 miles, which I have impeccably maintained and has been super reliable ever since I got it new in 2003. When I was in New York I even got the serpentine belt, oil, and transmission fluid changed. In the crash, the hood was bent, radiator damaged, and the left light broke off entirely.

Fortunately I was able to find a shop in Baton Rouge that was able to patch up the hood and replace the transmission and fan to drivable condition, but was not able to get the left headlight replaced. The AC is busted, the seat belt doesn't retract (but I can safely wear it), and the airbag light is on (it never went off though). All this cost $1400. I can safely and easily drive it back home this weekend (my dad flew in to help me out and is driving back with me).

To properly get everything fixed at a body shop in Los Angeles may easily cost many thousands of dollars. At this point I'm wondering if I should rather just sell the car for a few thousand dollars and get another car. I know Hondas are reliable cars but I'm not sure how the car will fare after this crash. I'd rather avoid a potential money pit of repairs as an aftermath and I'd rather just cut my losses and get something new, unless AskMe can help me out with advice otherwise!
posted by xtine to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
Having purchased, driven, and suffered with quality, reliable cars that were repaired after extensive damage from accidents, I advocate bidding your old friend adieu and getting a new friend without the baggage.
posted by batmonkey at 6:16 PM on January 11, 2013

Yeah, I hate to say it, but a fixed car is never as straight or good as a non crashed car. It is hard to say without photos at least but front end damage on a modern unibody car is really, really tough to fix right. Also price what a desirable replacement is going to cost you. The difference between that and how much to fix your car is the deciding factor. Get several estimates from different shops and don't tell anyone you are shopping around. After a while you should notice a convergence on a set price and any two or three shops that tell you the same thing and roughly the same price are probably honest, and it almost certainly won't be the lowest cost estimate. Post some pictures of the damage and we might be able to advise you better.

If you junk it you can recoup some money though from your wrecked car. If possible you should sell the car as parts though. Used Honda parts are very valuable and even a junkyard might give you a decent price for it ,although not nearly as much as taking off the parts yourself and selling them. A third strategy is to advertise it on craigslist for parts only. You might make quite a bit letting people come and take off what they want. Use eBay for accurate price information on each part.
posted by bartonlong at 6:27 PM on January 11, 2013

Response by poster: This is a picture of the damage right after the collision:
posted by xtine at 6:45 PM on January 11, 2013

A 10 year old car was bound to Start causing problems soon anyway. I would cut your losses. Find out how much will give you For it, when my car was totaled they offered me 3 to 4 times more than any local salvage yard.
posted by radioamy at 6:58 PM on January 11, 2013

Only 103k on the clock? Fix it, keep it. The airbag light is on because some of the sensors in the bumper got knocked loose.

Get an estimate when you get home. Compare this to the cost of the same model. If it's with in a reasonable amount, keep it.

(then again, I took a CRX that was once two separate cars from 132k to 240k, so...)
posted by notsnot at 7:04 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

After seeing the pic, I'd double-down on my original answer.

There's a chance you could get it to trouble-free condition again, but it's likely you'll have to go through a lot of random BS to get it all sorted, since you don't really know what's going to go wrong next. Coupled, of course, with all of the crazy footwork to make sure you're getting the right stuff without getting screwed.

And if you're tempted to take the bold step of replacing all of the potential troublemakers at once, you may as well be buying a new vehicle. It's all of the cost at once after a big run of said crazy footwork.
posted by batmonkey at 7:14 PM on January 11, 2013

It sounds like you already put the big money into fixing your car, by replacing the transmission and doing a bunch of body work.

To properly get everything fixed at a body shop in Los Angeles may easily cost many thousands of dollars.

Where are you getting that information? From what you've described, it sounds like you need a new headlight, possibly a new seatbelt mechanism, and you ought to get the SRS system looked at. Which doesn't sound like thousands of dollars worth of repairs to me, unless it turns out something is seriously wrong with the SRS system. Though that isn't apparent -- it could be as little as the seatbelt sensor plug coming undone under the seat.

If I were you, I'd get the car thoroughly checked out by a trustworthy mechanic back in L.A. before making any big decisions.

For what it's worth, I drive a much older Honda than yours, and, knock wood, it runs perfectly. I don't think you're anywhere near the end of your car's natural lifespan. Can't say what the accident damage will mean, but for a 2004 Honda Accord, I wouldn't simply scrap it and get a new one.
posted by Sara C. at 8:33 PM on January 11, 2013

Get a few estimates. It's hard for those of us who don't know body work and the quirks of specific years/models to know how badly damaged the car is. Be sure to let the body shop guys know that you won't be going through your insurance. Pricing should be much lower as a result. Good luck!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:35 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

The only reasonable answer here is: get three estimates (one from the dealer, one from a repair shop your insurance company recommends, and one from a repair shop a friend or relative has had a good experience with), and once you've got that information under your belt, you won't have to ask us any more. In the meantime, it is running, so this isn't an urgent thing (other than needing a new light to drive in the evening.)
posted by davejay at 8:45 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was able to find a shop in Baton Rouge that was able to patch up the hood and replace the transmission and fan to drivable condition,

By "transmission," did you mean "radiator?"
posted by jon1270 at 3:26 AM on January 12, 2013


I'm wondering if I should rather just sell the car for a few thousand dollars and get another car.

Unfortunately I think you're right that it would cost thousands of dollars to put Humpty Dumpty back together the way he was. Assuming the shop in Baton Rouge just did the bare minimum to get it drivable -- unfolded the hood, got your engine cooling system working again -- then it may be worth less than you're hoping for. Edmunds puts the private-party value of an automatic '04 Accord DX (not sure which version you have), at that mileage, at just over $5k "clean," i.e. looking good and needing no repairs at all. To put it into that condition you might be looking at a new hood, one or two new quarter panels, new headlight assembly, new bumper cover, plus painting all that. New AC condenser, new seatbelt... it's going to add up, and all of that plus a significant risk premium would be deducted from the value of the car, leaving you with probably not much. Definitely get some estimates and also some salvage prices, but at this point I'd also be thinking about my options as if the car had simply vanished. Any money you get out of it is gravy, not a large chunk you can count on.
posted by jon1270 at 3:55 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah I meant new radiator, not transmission. It's still in ugly shape even though it's drivable. I talked to a couple different shops in Baton Rouge that said it would be minimal a few grand to get it in good shape again. I do have a trusty mechanic in LA to bring it to but at this point hopefully it's just good enough to drive back home and see what my mechanic advises (probably sell).

Thanks for the responses everyone.
posted by xtine at 4:11 AM on January 12, 2013

In addition to what jon said, it is likely some of the crumple zone under that front quarter panel is crunched at will never, ever be perfectly straight or as strong again. Modern cars do really, really well in protecting occupants during crashes but the price of that is once that capability is used up it is gone and CAN'T be rebuilt. Kinda like a bike or motorcycle helmet-one crash per helmet since the helmet's job uses up it capability. In addition to that the front end alignment may never be right again. So yeah i would get the salvage value out and be glad you walked away from the accident.
posted by bartonlong at 10:49 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: So after sorting out lots of insurance stuff, it turns out that I *do* have collision coverage and all the costs of repair are being covered. Also talked to my mechanic that said that the engine is really solid and that I should not sell it and continue to use it. No more gnarly roadtrips in unstable weather conditions and hopefully I can carry it on another 9 years. :)
posted by xtine at 4:46 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

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