As a former licensed used car dealer in Florida, I can tell you that selling a total loss or damaged car can be difficult.
However, this is a market for these cars, and a process to follow that can limit the headaches.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through how to sell a total loss car by providing exact definitions, required steps, hidden risks, effective negotiation tactics, and your best sale options – whether you have insurance or not.
Articles to read that will be helpful for people with totaled or damaged cars:
- What is a Bonded Title?
- What is a Branded Title?
- What is a Salvage Title?
- What is a Rebuilt Title?
- All About Flood-Damaged Cars
- How Big of Hail to Damage Car
- Title Washing
Table of Contents
What Constitutes a “Totaled” Car?
The term “total loss” or “totaled” gets thrown around often, but what does it actually mean?
- A car is considered totaled when repair costs exceed the vehicle’s cash value before the accident. Different states use thresholds ranging from 50% to 100% of pre-crash value.
- Essentially, if fixing your car costs more than it was worth undamaged, insurance companies deem it a total loss.
Table 1 summarizes what legally constitutes a total loss car:
|Repair costs exceed car’s pre-crash value
|Actual Cash Value (ACV)
|A car’s value before accident damage
|Total Loss Threshold
|Varies by state (50% – 100% of ACV)
The insurance company has the final say on declaring your car totaled based on their adjustor’s damage assessment.
Know your rights under your state laws. Some states require the use of third-party appraisals or have more driver-friendly total loss rules.
Navigating the Insurance Claims Process
Here is an overview of what to expect once your car is totaled:
- The insurer will determine ACV and estimated repair costs then decide if it passes the total loss threshold in your state.
- If deemed a total loss, they will issue a settlement check for the ACV minus your deductible. Some key money factors:
- ACV is based on local market rates for your make, model, year, and mileage.
- Additional “adjustments” like condition, features, and damage state can alter ACV.
- Insurers can lowball offers, so negotiating is key (more later).
- The insurer will then retain salvage rights to your vehicle, allowing them to take possession and sell it at auction.
You can reject their initial settlement and keep the totaled car. If so, they subtract their estimated salvage sale profit (usually $300-$500) from the payment, then transfer the title as “salvage”.
💡 Pro Tip: Salvaging the car yourself unlocks more sale opportunities to maximize value.
Selling a Salvage Title Vehicle
Selling a totaled or salvage title car takes some extra effort but can earn you substantially more money if done right. Let’s review your options.
Sell to the Insurance Company
- Quickest and easiest option – but their auction sale price is usually only 25%-50% of ACV.
- You lose control of maximizing the sale price. I’ve seen insurers make $2,000+ profit reselling totaled cars I could have gotten more for.
- If you need cash urgently or don’t want the hassle, this path makes sense. But leave money on the table.
Buy Back & Sell Privately
- Highest profit potential but most work. You must advertise, show the car, vet buyers, and handle sale logistics.
- Emphasize parts that are still functional or frame damage that an expert can fix. Be transparent about the full damage history.
- Junkyards often offer more than private buyers for late-model salvage cars. Older or rare cars attract more private buyer interest.
Sell to Online Buyers
- Companies like Peddle, Copart, and DamagedCars.com simplify everything – quotes, paperwork, towing, and title transfers.
- No fees, and cash/check on pickup is standard. I’ve used online buyers many times with customers to get great prices.
- Quotes only take 1-2 minutes, and tows usually arrive within 48 hours of accepting an offer. Awesome option.
The table below compares your primary salvage vehicle sale avenues:
|Fast, no effort
|Least profit potential
|Max sale price
|Most work (advertise/show car, arrange transport)
|Easy quotes, tows, title transfers
|Lower profit than private sale (but far less work)
💡 Key Takeaway: Online buyers like Peddle strike the best balance of high salvage price and minimal selling effort.
Repairing Before Selling
- Minor repairs to get a totaled car running again can recoup investment when selling. But avoid sinking too much money into extensive fixes.
- Always disclose full damage and repair history legally. Consider saving major mechanical repairs for the buyer.
Parting Out the Car
- Selling individual parts can generate more profit if you have in-demand items in good shape.
- But identifying buyers for multiple small parts takes long-term time and effort. Junking the full car is less hassle.
- Check your state’s title rules – some don’t allow parting out until obtaining a salvage certificate.
Total Loss Sale Checklist to Avoid Hassles
Selling a salvage vehicle takes care and paperwork. Here are key steps:
- Thoroughly document damage with photos/repair estimates for transparency. Note deployed airbags, water damage risk, etc.
- Get a salvage title from the DMV (insurer usually files this automatically post-settlement).
- Provide copies of the title history like previous clean titles, accident report, and salvage paperwork.
- Know your state’s rebuilt/scrap title distinction rules – buyer fines or inability to register cars can occur if improperly sold.
- Handle liens on the vehicle’s title if needed. Insurers can’t pay you until these are cleared.
💚 Pro Environmental Tip: Consider selling damaged hybrid/electric vehicles to eco-friendly rebuilders – they pay premiums to get these back on the road!
Following these basic legal protocols protects buyers and sellers in a total loss sale. Having a complete ownership paper trail shows the car was properly declared salvage. Don’t cut corners here.
How to Negotiate the Best Settlement Payout
If you reject an insurer’s initial total loss settlement, smart negotiation can often increase the payout substantially. I’ve helped customers secure 20% or more over the first offer:
- Gather comparable local listings to argue for a higher valuation. Emphasize nearly identical vehicles with higher prices.
- Check all rating factors used in their ACV calculation. Challenge anything you have proof is inaccurate, like mileage, trim, etc.
- Note any recent repairs or maintenance not reflected in the offer to justify higher vehicle condition contribution.
- Highlight unique factory options that boost value like special performance packages or technology features.
- Quote local salvage car valuations if their settlement mostly reflects projected auction pricing.
Be persistent yet professional if an adjuster denies increased requests.
Additionally, justify with supporting documentation. Reaching managers also pressures them. Total loss negotiation absolutely pays – an extra $500 or $1000+ goes straight to your pocket.
What If You Don’t Have Insurance Coverage?
If your totaled vehicle is uninsured, your options are more limited, but selling the car for parts or to a junkyard remains viable to regain some value:
- Fix It Yourself First: Determine if low-cost repairs to get your car drivable make financial sense based on your budget and technical skill. This adds sale value versus selling as-is.
- Sell to a Junkyard: They’ll pay based on weight but it saves you storage space and tows are often free. Compare multiple bids first – prices can vary greatly between yards.
- Part It Out: Selling high-demand individual parts can generate more profit but identifying buyers will require aggressive advertising and time investment on your part. Consider parting once you obtain the car’s salvage title.
When uninsured, recovering maximum value requires more research and effort on your end. Reach out for assistance navigating the legal and DMV details of selling a damaged, uninsured vehicle.
How Much Do Junkyards Pay for Total Loss Vehicles?
Junkyards and salvage yards make cash offers on totaled cars based on:
- The vehicle’s weight and condition
- Current value of scrap metal
- Projected profits from any usable parts
Prices paid typically range from $100 to $500 on average, but can be higher for newer cars with intact components.
For new cars, the money is in the parts and technology. You should do your best not to sell newer cars with technology to a junkyard because you will get pennies on the dollar
Affecting factors include:
- Make/model/year of the vehicle
- Overall condition
- Number of functional parts
- Local scrap prices
- Part interchangeability and demand
Online buyers like JunkCarMasters also give quotes for totaled cars and handle towing. Their payouts can be slightly higher than traditional junkyards.
Where To Sell A Junk Car
Below is a list I have put together of websites that will buy junk cars.
- Pickup My Junk Car – Online marketplace to connect with local junk car buyers.
- Peddle – Get instant cash offers and free towing when you sell your car to them.
- Wheelzy – Quick online evaluation and cash payment when they pick up your car.
- CarBrain – Guaranteed cash offers in 90 seconds or less for your car in “as-is” condition.
- Cash Auto Salvage – Get offers in 90 seconds, free towing, and cash/check payment on pickup.
- USJunkCars – Specializes in buying old, wrecked, burned, and unwanted vehicles. Same-day pickup is available.
Answering Common Total Loss Questions
Can you trade in a totaled car to a dealership?
Yes, you can trade in a totaled car to a dealership. However, expect very low offers as dealers focus on reselling retail-ready vehicles. They don’t want the headache of fixing salvage cars. You’ll get far higher profit by selling a totaled car independently.
If my car had previous damage, does that affect the total loss valuation?
Yes, if your car had previous damage, it does affect the total loss valuation. Documented prior damage before a further incident that led to the total loss designation reduces your car’s pre-loss value and settlement offer from the insurance company.
What prevents the buyer from fixing and reselling my totaled car illegally?
Yes, there are protections to prevent a buyer from illegally fixing and reselling your totaled car. Reputable buyers pledge to properly scrap or declare rebuilt total loss cars. You should also file a release of interest and include the salvage title brand change with the sale paperwork. This legally documents that you no longer own the prior salvage vehicle.
Can I negotiate a total loss settlement without a lawyer?
Yes, you can negotiate a total loss settlement without a lawyer by being persistent yet professional. Systematically cite evidence around value comparisons, rating inaccuracies, desirable options on your car, and recent maintenance to justify a higher offer. Avoid emotional pleas or attacks and demonstrate you’ve done diligent research to build negotiating credibility.
My Final Thoughts
I hope this guide has helped eliminate confusion around selling totaled and salvage title vehicles.
Remember – always consult state regulations, document the damage history fully, negotiate with insurers, and consider online buyers.
Follow these tips and you can maximize your payout. Let me know if you have any other total loss questions!