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What if your car gets totaled?

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Each year, auto insurance companies declare millions of vehicles to be “totaled,” meaning it’s not worth the cost to repair them. It doesn’t matter whether the car was damaged in a collision, during a flood or after a thief’s joyride went bad.
It’s hard to argue with such an assessment if your car was wrapped around a telephone pole or the gas tank exploded. But what if the damage was more cosmetic, such as major dents on the roof and hood from a hailstorm?
A vehicle is considered a total loss if the insurance company determines that the total cost to repair your car to pre-accident condition, plus fees for storage, salvage and a replacement rental car (if included in your policy), is more than a certain percentage of car’s retail value. Insurers set their own allowable percentage, within state-mandated guidelines (typically around 60 to 75 percent), and use their own formulas to determine a car’s value and estimated repair costs.
Thus, if your $4,500-valued 2002 Honda Civic sustains $1,800 worth of damage — moderate bodywork and repainting these days — it might be deemed totaled, even though the engine still runs fine. On the other hand, a late-model Mercedes could sustain far greater damage and still be considered salvageable.


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