What Does It Mean to Say Your Car Is Totaled?

If you’ve been in a car accident, your insurance company may declare the car a total loss. What does it mean to say your car is totaled? It can mean several things.

First, when you’re in an accident, an insurance company looks at how much it would cost to repair the car. If it would cost more to repair the car than the car is worth, insurers declare it a total loss. Some insurance companies will declare a car a total loss if repairs come close to the current market value of the car. This is a crucial concept to understand, because it isn’t so much the type or extent of damage the car has suffered, but the worth of the car that is the central determining issue. An older car that is worth only $2,000, for example, can be declared a total loss even if the damage isn’t extensive, simply because the repair bill amounts to more than the car is worth.

Second, a car can be declared totaled if it has been damaged in a way that is virtually impossible to fix. A frame, for example, can be damaged so extensively that it can’t be made completely right and restored to the original integrity of the vehicle.

Some misconceptions exist about what it means to declare a car totaled. Some people believe, for example, that an accident in which the air bag has been activated results in a totaled car. While an air bag going off in an accident can mean the accident was severe, and a severe accident can result in enough damage to declare the car a total loss, the air bag being activated in an accident is not the factor that causes a total loss to be declared by the insurance company. It’s the amount the damage will cost to fix versus the worth of the car or whether the damage can be adequately repaired.


After a total loss is declared, the insurance company will usually issue you a check for the market value of the car. It’s a good idea to check with an objective third-party about the market value. The Kelley Blue Book is a universally recognized source of market value for used cars. You can insert the make, model, year, and condition of your car (pre-accident, of course) to receive a valuation range.

Once you receive the check, you can purchase a replacement vehicle.

Insurance companies usually take possession of a totaled car. Most are auctioned off at salvage lots, and the insurance company realizes any proceeds above fair market value. Many insurance companies use the auction to set the fair market value of the car.


What if you want to keep your car even though it’s been declared a total loss? Some people, for instance, feel they can repair their own cars for less than an auto repair shop, or have an attachment to their car.

If you fall into that camp, Minnesota law does allow you to keep a totaled car. This is a process you must go through, however. You need to file an application with the state to move the car to a “salvage title.” Then, all repairs must be completed before you can receive registration and license plates.


If you or a loved one has been in a car accident in Minnesota, we can help. Contact us today to discuss your car. We can provide legal counsel, representation in court, and investigation into the causes of an accident.

Posted  by Rogosheske, Rogosheske & Atkins