Instructables

How to Fix a Totaled Car for a fraction of the "Estimate".

FeaturedContest Winner
A little History

    In 2004 my daughter bought her "dream car" which at the time was a 1998 Dodge Intrepid ES. It was sporty and it was RED. It also had a lot of other good things going for it, like a 3.2 liter 24 valve engine, traction control, leather seats, super sound system, auto stick override transaxle, ----and more ---  . Overall it was a good car. She took very good care of it, always had the oil changed regularly, had all the maintenance done right. Just recently she spent a bunch to have the brakes all redone and a new radiator put in. So the car was well maintained. She did have a run in with a deer in 2008 but that was all repaired, or so we thought.

So when she called me and told me  (both angry and crying at the same time) that her car was ruined, it was not a good day for her. Someone ran a red light and went through the intersection right in front of her. She hit the brakes and then hit the car broadside. Long story short, the airbags did not deploy but the crash was consider a serious accident and the damage that was done and the age of the car made the insurance company decide to consider the car a total loss. They did not want to spend the money to fix it. Instead they told her they would give her a check for what the value of the car was at the time of the accident, which was around $3,000.

Not to long after the accident I went and visited and looked the car over and I thought they were wrong. I repaired my mini van after hitting a deer and that damage was worse than this. Of course I was figuring it as a DIY project in the true instructables spirit. I did not have to pay full dealer price for parts. So I told my daughter to tell the insurance company that we were keeping the car.  I paid her the $300.00 salvage that they wanted and I became the owner of the "rocket car" which is what we used to teasingly call it.

There is a  full cost breakdown of the total cost on the last page. it is fraction of the $3,000 that they said it would cost.

I rented a U Haul car dolly and we towed the car to its new home.  That cost me about $125.00 in rental fees and gas.

I spent another $70.00 to transfer the title and get  license plates. Yes, I was pretty sure it was going to be back on the road again.

We moved the car in the winter, and once it was  parked it sat there waiting for better weather, because one thing I don't have but really need is a garage. And you just can't work on cars outside in the winter in Montana.

Well I finally got around to fixing it and this Instructable will show you how to fix a crashed car for a reasonable cost.
 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up
umax_ov1 month ago

They also make a special comb that will straighten the fins out, so if you're short on time or have no patience, you can go find it online or at most auto parts stores.

rscott324 months ago

So you "fixed" a totaled car from a head on collision and never checked the alignment, and the hood was 1/2" off the fender.... no wonder it was "cheap".

Wasn't there part where you were bagging the other repairer for not checking all the damage. Also most totaled cars require an inspection + fees to re-register them.

Vyger (author)  rscott322 months ago

From your profile it looks like you joined mostly so you could comment on this. I am glad you felt motivated enough to do so, we always appreciate input. No ones see's things the same and different points of view are always helpful. I am guessing you are somehow involved in repair work because your comments appear to reflect that experience.

As to the alignment, I did get it checked. We have a lot of gravel roads here and that is always an issue so not wanting to chew up the tires I did check it. It was still in good alignment and I have since put about 20,000 miles on the car and the tires have shown no unusual wear. I do have a front CV joint going bad now though but that is from miles and not the accident.

As far as the hood, it has worked its way back to being where it should be. I am guessing all the gravel roads helped with that. Probably not a normal thing but a car is made to flex and likely once the bent parts were removed it went back to its original position. I will likely replace the hood anyway. It was repainted poorly by someone and the paint has been chipping off. So I am keeping an eye out for a better hood and likely when I find one I will repaint the car so it all matches. You have to keep in mind that paint jobs here are not considered as important as they are in other places. Our weather is pretty rough on finishes. In fact a lot of vehicles have paint that is peeling. In the extreme cold the metal shrinks more than the paint does and it literally pops off the metal. Some models are a lot worse for this than others.

imp54549 months ago
I really like it keep up the good work
bstarling10 months ago
Outstanding!!!!!! You have done a wonderful job both in the body work, but the instructable as well. Thanks you.
petercd11 months ago
Awesome story with epic photos, like watching a movie.

If you dont want to consider the expense and labour of respraying the bonnet, maybe consider vinyl wrap instead. Matt black bonnet with black bumper... might look abit too "Fast and Furious" for your tastes but it should be a lot cheaper than spraying.
Great 'ible!



I'm a long-time engine tinkerer, so when I saw all that engine exposed after you removed the damaged stuff, my only thought was, "Oh boy! Let's do engine stuff!" My daddy always told me to never let slip an opportunity to get at the engine.



The warped/bent balancer might have been too subtle to see with the naked eye, but with everything open and exposed you likely might have been able to get a straight edge, or some other reference in there for comparison before you went to all the trouble with the radiator. Also, had there been oil seepage there, there wouldn't have been any better time to replace the front seal. Ooh, and what about the timing belt?



Other than that, I'm now giving thought to a little salvage job to get something fun that I otherwise wouldn't. Thanks!
Vyger (author)  EoRaptor0131 year ago
I had not realized that the impact had push things back as far as the balancer. Nothing was close to it when I was taking parts apart. SO it must have pushed everything in and then sprung back.
I agree with taking advantage of having things open. I did check all the gaskets and seals for any leaks. I did change the serpentine belts and associated pulleys. Its a way easier thing to do when you have room. In general the engine was/is in excellent shape with no leaks or problems. After I had been driving for a while it did develop a transmission fluid leak. But that came from one of the hoses in the radiator. I cranked it down a little tighter and that fixed it.
I have sometimes wondered if mechanics were allowed to give input during the design process if cars would look a lot different. Little things like "do you really think my arm has an extra joint in it that I can reach in there and torque that bolt?" They should put the entire radiator assembly on a sliding support so you could just move it back from the engine and actually get a hand in there when you need to.
I have a Dodge minivan and it has a bad oil leak in the main bearing seal between the engine and transmission. To fix that I am going to have to pull the engine out because there is just no room to separate them while in the engine compartment and there is no provision for taking the bearing out of the bottom. A lot of engines allow you to do that but not this one. What were they thinking?
Aack! The review button lied! Sorry about the extra line spaces.
Rebuilt many a crashed car and your documentation is great. Please remove any info that the EPA could use against you, they are a sorry lot.
altomic1 year ago
totally awesome instructable. so many instructables in one. bookmarked it as a favourite. cheers
ramedia1 year ago
Nice. Thank you for taking the time. I learned a lot. Particularly the usefulness of a come-along as a must have tool.
hmaqueda1 year ago
Muito bom, é uma bela máquina!
fakautz1 year ago
Excellent Job and Instructable. Thanks for sharing.
sally_ab1 year ago
I loved this instructs me, it was like reading a story, I wish I knew how to do stuff like this. Sally
tannerr521 year ago
I have a 1998 jeep that got rear ended. I loved that car but it had a lot of problems I couldn't afford to fix. Insurance gave me $1800 and i managed to fix all the problems and the bumper! a few dents and scratches but nothing major!
oesti1 year ago
This looks very familiar. We had a totaled GEO in 2000, most of the damage was also in the front. The Insurance paid close to $5000, the repair cost me about $1100. The car is still running strong and will turn 20 next year.

Stuff like that makes a car part of the family ;)
!!!!!
You should probably black-out the license plate numbers, the internet has no shortage of crazies.
billbillt1 year ago
Very ambitious project!..Very good job with a lot of patience on your part..
Great documentation and a good read! Tons of pictures and videos too, bravo sir!
Better than a Haynes manual !!

I wonder where you can access all the magic numbers, when you straighten the car out ?
lucky daughter !!!!…
not only does she have a father who wants to make her happy, but he can do ti too …and very efficiently !…
Nice inst' : it tells that basic mechanics can be done by most …

Beautiful scenery too in the last images …

Thank you so much !
bajablue1 year ago
Congrats, Vyger!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Internet high-five.jpg
iceng1 year ago
Congratulations on FIRST PRIZE ! !

But still not featured ? ? ?

How does it figure........................................

A
Vyger (author)  iceng1 year ago
Thanks, I was really happy to get that notification from them. There were a lot of good projects in that contest so to come out on the top was really encouraging.

Yes, the not being featured thing is a little puzzling. I guess it was just overlooked. They have been pretty busy lately.

great instructable thanks for sharing. Here in Oz insurance company's also own finance company's so what they do is tell you our car is unrepairable and call it a statuary write off which means it cannot be repaired and put back on the road. here is the pittance we are going to give you, which just happens to be the exact same amount for a down payment on an over priced high interest loan on a new car. But its just got a broken headlight! tough it cant be put back on the road! see the photo stat write offs have a yellow sticker on the windscreen
Screenshot-2.pngScreenshot-2.png
Vyger (author)  liquidhandwash1 year ago
Can the "totaled" cars be exported and sold that way with a new title?
If so it could become a pretty lucrative business. What I mean is, a minor bit of damage to a vehicle in another country is not a big deal. So if you could export them to a country where they can do the repairs for a reasonable amount, assign new titles to them and then resell them as damaged but completely repaired vehicles but for a cheap price it could be a big business. And you undercut the people that are trying to cheat you which could be the best reason for doing it.
That's a great idea,The problem is, that Australia, is so far away from everybody and the steering wheel is on the right (wrong) side of the car which limits the country's it can be exported to. NZ wont let them in and cars are cheap there. That pretty much leaves Indonesia, which may be possible, but there is a language barrier and I don't know enough about the place. The cost freight will be the biggest hurdle.
Great work.
I bumped my Volvo V70R similarly to your daughter.
Needed a hood, radiator, lights, grille, bumper, fender, radiator frame.
Bought nearly identical parts car, same color, on Craigslist for $300.
Have been selling parts from parts car on Craigslist as well.
Still working on it.
There's a good chance the repair will not only not cost me anything, but will
make me money.
Thank you for a great Instructable.
l8nite1 year ago
Having done the same kind of repairs to several vehicles I can safely say this is a very through and informative instructable even down to some aspects taking WAY longer than anticipated. When we rebuilt my sons 87 cougar we were fortunate to have his friends assistance and access to the body shop manuals that give measurements (it was "tweaked" a little more that your mopar) and a hydraulic porta-power instead of a come-a-long.

It's sad that the body shop basically ripped off your daughter but that can happen in any shop that looks more at the bottom line than the pride of craftsmanship, they may have saved 3 or 4 man hours by cutting corners but now they have a bad rep with your family and any friends or friends of friends who find out.

Great project, you not only kept a vehicle out of the scrap yard but recycled parts from several others AND made a well documented "ible" ^5
iceng1 year ago
Fabulous labor of brawn and love.
I hope your daughter is truly appreciative of her father's skill.
And HQ better give this instructable top billing...

A
blkhawk1 year ago
Very well documented project! Thank you for taking the time to post it! Great Instructable!