If my car is declared a total loss, can I still drive it?

If your car is declared a total loss, you can still drive it. However, you'll need to have your salvage title approved by the DMV, and you'll need the state's minimum auto insurance requirements. Totaled vehicles are only eligible for liability coverage, which is about $46/mo on average. Before you buy auto insurance, shop around for affordable auto insurance quotes by comparing multiple companies in your area.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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  • You may need a salvage title to drive a vehicle that’s declared a total loss
  • Total loss cars that have been repaired are only eligible for liability auto insurance
  • Auto insurance companies have to report total loss vehicles to local DMVs

Your vehicle was recently declared a total loss after an accident, but it’s still drivable. So the question is: If my car is declared a total loss, can I still drive it?

That depends. Some states require auto insurance companies to report your total loss vehicle to the DMV or BMV, and you may need a salvage title.

Our guide explains everything you need to know about driving a car that’s declared a total loss and what auto insurance coverage you need.

If you want to insure a vehicle that’s been declared a total loss, enter your ZIP code in the free online quote tool above to compare the best companies in your area.

If my car is declared a total loss, can I still drive it?

The short answer is yes, but you can’t drive it right away. You can drive a car that’s declared a total loss legally by getting your salvage title cleared by your local DMV, and you’ll need the minimum requirements for auto insurance in your state.

What is a total loss?

Total loss is when an insurance claims adjuster estimates that it’s cost-efficient to replace your car because the repairs would cost more than what the car is worth.

In other words, a total loss occurs when it would cost less money to replace a car than to repair the damaged one.

If the vehicle is running fine, you can drive it if you get a salvage title. However, you’ll need to sift through a few technicalities before you do.

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What happens after my car is declared a total loss?

Your car insurance provider will issue a check that covers the actual cash value (ACV) plus the salvage value of the total loss car. If you accept the auto insurance company’s payment, it will own your vehicle and salvage the vehicle for parts.

Auto insurance companies report total loss vehicles to the DMV and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS).

Can I buy my totaled car back from the insurance company?

The answer is yes. You can keep the vehicle, and the insurance company pays you for the ACV of the vehicle. The auto insurance company issues a salvage title, and you’ll be responsible for making repairs to the car if you decide to keep it.

If the total loss car is still drivable, you’ll need to get it repaired. The ACV check is a good start to getting your total loss vehicle repaired, but total loss cars aren’t permitted to get on the road without car insurance.

How To Get a Salvage Title Cleared

Can you drive a vehicle with a salvage title? Yes, you can. You can’t drive a total loss car unless you have a salvage title and auto insurance.

Before you start shopping for car insurance, you’ll need to show your salvage title to your local DMV or BMV. Go to your local DMV and request an inspection for your total loss car.

DMV or BMV employees determine whether your vehicle is safe to drive. Therefore, you must get repairs on a salvage vehicle before taking it to the DMV for inspection.

Also, you may have to pay an inspection fee, which varies by state.

If the total loss vehicle doesn’t pass the inspection, you’ll need to get the car repaired based on your state’s standards. Return to the DMV and have it inspected again afterward.

A salvage vehicle that’s cleared to drive on the road requires auto insurance. However, you won’t be able to get full coverage.

How can you insure a total loss vehicle?

You can insure a total loss vehicle as long as it’s drivable and has adequate repairs.

Some total loss cars aren’t drivable after an accident. So how can you get insurance on a totaled car?

Once you have a salvage title cleared, you can start shopping for car insurance. You may have a hard time getting an auto insurance policy, though.

How can a totaled car be insured?

Totaled cars can only be insured after the DMV clears the vehicle as a drivable car. But what type of auto insurance covers a totaled vehicle?

Auto insurance companies provide liability-only auto insurance for salvage title vehicles.

Why liability-only car insurance? It’s not worth the risk to insure a total loss vehicle with full coverage. Although the panels and interior cabin may look fine, total loss cars have underlying issues.

How much is liability auto insurance?

Liability is made up of bodily injury liability and property damage liability, and it varies by state.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) provides a summary of auto insurance costs per year. We’ve summarized one of its studies to focus on liability insurance costs per month. Let’s look at the average cost of liability car insurance by state.

Liability Auto Insurance Rates by State
StatesAverage Monthly Liability Auto Insurance Rates
North Carolina$30
North Dakota$25
South Dakota$26
New Hampshire$34
New Mexico$43
South Carolina$46
West Virginia$42
Rhode Island$66
District of Columbia$55
New York$69
New Jersey$75
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Why are these auto insurance rates important? The monthly liability auto insurance rates give you an idea of how much you’ll pay for salvage car insurance.

However, auto insurance quotes vary for each person. Age, driving record, credit history, commute, and even marital status can affect your car insurance rates.

If you want to learn more, read our articles to help you save money on car insurance.

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How do you drive a car that’s declared a total loss after an at-fault accident?

If you’re at fault in an accident, you can only get coverage through collision insurance. Liability-only coverage won’t cover damage or injuries from an accident where you’re mostly at fault.

When someone else is at fault, the other party’s liability car insurance coverage pays for your total loss vehicle. You can accept the check and keep the totaled car, or you can accept the ACV check and sell the salvage vehicle to the insurance company.

Car Is Declared A Total Loss: What’s the bottom line?

Can you drive a totaled car? If it’s drivable, yes, you can. However, you’ll need a salvage title to be cleared with your local DMV and liability car insurance to drive it.

Auto insurance for a totaled car can be tricky. Repairs after a total loss may last for a few weeks to a few years. Car insurance companies don’t like to take chances on totaled vehicles, so they won’t allow you to get full coverage for a salvage car.

The only auto insurance available for totaled cars is liability coverage. However, your car insurance costs depend on the company you’re with. To secure cheap auto insurance, shop around.

Now that you know more about cars declared a total loss and how to insure them, use our free online quote tool below to compare the best companies in your area.

Frequently Asked Questions: When Your Car Is Declared A Total Loss

Check the answers to these frequently asked questions to fill in the gaps about totaled loss cars.

#1 – How can I keep my vehicle if the insurance company totals it?

To keep your vehicle after a total loss, ask the auto insurance company to give you the salvage title to your totaled car and the ACV of your vehicle.

#2 – Is a salvage car worth keeping?

That would depend on the nature of the repairs. A total loss vehicle with engine and steering problems is not worth keeping even after the repair.

#3 – Should I notify the DMV that my car is declared a total loss?

The car insurance company usually notifies your local DMV about your totaled vehicle. However, be prepared to report it yourself.

#4 – Is it a good idea to drive a total loss vehicle?

If the car is still in driving condition, it should be fine. Be sure to get the salvage car repaired and get the salvage title cleared to drive it legally on the road.

#5 – Are car repairs on a total loss car worth it?

Some repairs are more trouble than they’re worth. It’s on a case-by-case basis. If you have to ask if a total loss car is worth it, chances are it’s not.

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