Salvage my car?
January 11, 2007 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Salvage title or new-to-me car? I rear-ended the car in front of me at about 15 mph (I was passing on the left and he stopped suddenly), hitting my front right side on his left rear bumper. My headlight and blinker were pushed straight back and the hood slightly accordioned.

Thinking the damage wasn't that bad, I foolishly took the car to my insurance's recommended repair center,who decided that there was $3700 of body damage (which I think is ridiculously inflated, but they won't let me take the car for a second estimate). The car's blue book value is $5000 at best, so the insurance company declared it a total loss. I have the option of taking the whole settlement, or taking a salvage title to my car and the settlement minus the salvage fee.

The mechanics don't think there's any radiator or frame damage. The body damage includes a broken headlight and blinker, the inside dashboard lights no longer work (blown fuse?), dented bumper and grill, and slightly accordioned hood (still latches). I'm willing to live with some body damage, as long as the car is safe and reliable.

I'm not emotionally attached to my car, but I don't want to go through the pain of trying to buy a decent used car for $5000 (done it twice and it's just a LOT of work). Should I take the salvage title and fix up my car? Or is a salvage title not worth the bother, and should I just take the money?

Note: the car is a 2001 Chevy Prizm with about 104,000 miles, and I live in California.
posted by ilyanassa to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
I'd keep the car. You should be able to find a body shop that will fix you up enough to be legal and safe for less than your settlement. Especially if you tell them you're paying cash.
posted by Floydd at 2:20 PM on January 11, 2007

Unless your going to do the work yourself or the $5000 is way under the value of the car I'd take the money and run.

This is because to get the car fixed you'll need to tow it someplace ($). You'll also need to get it inspected once it is fixed ($) and you might have to tow it for that ($). You may also be on the hook for storage while you are shopping for a new repair place.

Also if you ever intend to sell the car the resale value of a salvaged car is significantly less.
posted by Mitheral at 2:21 PM on January 11, 2007

they won't let me take the car for a second estimate

This may be of questionable legality in California. See: Auto Body Repair Consumer's Bill of Rights. They can't require you to get your car repaired by their chosen vendor, and since at the moment, it is still your property, it's unclear why they won't let you have someone else look at it.

Part of your determining whether it's worth salvaging your car is an independent determination of whether it can be made safe and reliable again. If your insurance company isn't letting you do this, then you can't reasonably choose the right course of action, and you should complain.

If a body shop determines that they're willing to make the car safe and legal again for roughly the settlement that your insurer is going to give you, and you intend to keep the car until it dies, then you should probably salvage it. If you were planning on selling it before too long, or your body shop expresses concern about whether they can make it whole, then you should write off the car. It's much harder (in California) to sell a salvaged car, and more than one dealer won't take them as a trade-in.
posted by toxic at 2:24 PM on January 11, 2007

My son incurred similar damage in an accident with a 1995 Escort. They gave us $2k after totaling it out. I fixed it up to good working order for $1100; this included getting the radiator support straightened for $400; replacing the headlight, turn signal and fender for $100 (junkyard parts), new struts and, what the heck, 4 new tires for $600 (for both). The only part of the work I didn't do was getting the frame straightened, and the struts and wheels installed. I removed the fender, headlights, turn signals and grill before taking it to the body shop to get the frame straightened, and I reinstalled all that stuff (including the parts I got from the junkyard) once the frame was done.

The car is not perfect since the incident, but it is still perfectly serviceable to this day and my younger son is now learning to drive with it.

The thing that bothers me is the electrical issue. You should really try to find out if it's a blown fuse and if so, why it blew. If you have a cut harness, that could be problematic going forward. On the other hand, if it just means your lights go out but the car still runs, you can probably work this out eventually.

So, if you're handy or know someone who is, and are sure the electrical issue isn't a show-stopper, I'd keep the car.
posted by Doohickie at 2:41 PM on January 11, 2007

Yeah, don't let that Prism go - they're great cars and hard to find! If you don't mind a tri-color car, you could probably fix it for less than $1000 from junkyard parts, thus adding character.

Caveats: as another poster noted, the resale value of a salvage car is a little less, but after a couple hundred thousand miles, it all pretty much evens out anyway. Also, you won't be able to get anything but liability insurance on it. So next time you get in an accident, the car is finished, and you get nothing.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:22 PM on January 11, 2007

Also, you won't be able to get anything but liability insurance on it.

Not true (at least, not in California). I have full comprehensive/collision coverage on a car with a salvage title, registered in California, through 21st Century Insurance.

Whether that's something you'd want on a 6 year old prizm is up to you, but it's certainly not impossible.
posted by toxic at 4:04 PM on January 11, 2007

Yeah, same here in Texas.... my insurance agent offered full coverage after the car was inspected (although I declined).
posted by Doohickie at 4:46 PM on January 11, 2007

Your profile shows you are in San Diego. Surely there are some cheaper repair shops on both sides of the border...
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:59 PM on January 11, 2007

you might be surprised how inexpensive bodywork is in tijuana. my old biz buddy was a san diego state grad and he knew just where to go every time his wife wrecked a car.
posted by bruce at 11:29 PM on January 11, 2007

Salvage title it is! Thank you, friendly Ask Metafilterians!
posted by ilyanassa at 11:39 PM on January 11, 2007

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