Picture of How to Fix a Totaled Car for a fraction of the
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.
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OmarJ314 days ago

Love your 'ible. The suggestion about using a piece of 1/4" steel to spread the load when pulling out the frame occurred to me too. I "rescued" my Volvo 740 which suffered a side impact that bent the McPherson strut and displaced the top anchor point (shock tower) by one inch crosswise. Made an attachment yoke which fitted to the mounting studs and used a comealong with an extra pulley and cable to double the effective pulling power, which I estimated.at 4000 lb The opposite wheels of the car almost lifted off, however, the operation was a success!!

TroyV5 months ago

"Not to long after the accident I went and visited and looked the car over and I thought they were wrong".

Insurance companies do this all day, every day. Now I'm not saying they are always right, but they are rarely wrong. Its the insurance companies job to put the insured back into the same "position" they were prior to the loss, either by repair or monetary (total). So, stating that with the photos you supplied of the damaged vehicle, the estimate with used parts would probably be about $2,600. That is an estimate. Probably hidden damage to the fan shroud, radiator & inner structure. When you decide to retain a totaled vehicle, you take the risk, not the insurance company. Insurance company's don't nilly willy total vehicles on a whim. They are a business, just like any other business. They total vehicles because they need to be totaled, as the damages come close, meet or exceed the ACV (actual cash value) of a specific vehicle. They usually total vehicles because its cheaper to total a vehicle than repair or state law dictates a total. In your case lets say the ACV was $3,000 & lets say the salvage value (value in post loss condition) was $600. If the insurance company totals your vehicle for $3000, they will buy the vehicle from you for that amount. The insurance company then sells the vehicle for $600 with a net loss of $2400. The insurance company is ahead $200 on a total ($2400), than a repair ($2600). BING... and the little light bulb goes on in your head.....

Simple eh? So in conclusion, the insurance company probably made the correct decision in totaling the vehicle. BTW I worked in the body shop for 20 years & inmsurance 10 years.

Vyger (author)  TroyV4 months ago

It's always interesting when some one quotes you to you. It's one of those "did I say that moments". I suppose I might have sounded a little presumptuous, for me to say the damage didn't look that bad as opposed to what an expert thought. But I was not trying to second guess the insurance company, they were going to do what they were going to do no matter what my opinion. The fact is I was trying to decide if I wanted to try and do something with the car. I had the option to give it a shot.

I actually based my opinion on a previous experience. I hit a deer on the interstate in my Chrysler minivan. It made a pretty big mess of it. They say things appear to happen in slow motion when something like that happens. I remember that. I also remember thinking "I didn't know deer could shatter that way." Then I realized that it was the front of the van I was seeing flying all over. I was able to finish driving it home because the cooling system was still intact and I had one headlight left. But the hood was stuck shut and the front support was pushed back a long way. So it was pretty bad. But it was also an old van. I didn't have collision or comprehensive insurance because it was not worth having it. I had full liability so anyone who's car got damaged in a collision would be covered but the van was not. That insurance would have cost almost as much as it was worth. So I opted to just take the loss if anything happened.

When I got the van home I pried the hood open and looked through the mess and I wondered what it would take to fix it. So I went to the junk yard and looked at others and decided to give it a try. It was a learning experience and a successful one. I fully repaired the van although now its a Dodge in the back and a Plymouth in the front. When I looked over the car it really didn't look as bad as the van had been. So if I could fix that then I felt confident that I could fix this one. I wasn't trying to say the insurance company was wrong, but rather that I could get a bargain out of the deal by doing my own repairs.

By the way, thanks for your comment and also welcome to instructables.

awhite726 months ago
Hello, My name is Alek. A little story about my accident. Yesterday i went out with my friend like we always do out of the city to enjoy the serenity of the nature and wild life. We where going east of Calgary Alberta and decited to stop for snacks and smokes. Long story short all the shop were closed and my friend needed to pee. I let him out and was doing doughnuts on the road. I wanted to just scare him a little bit by making it look like that i was leaving him there alone. i was turning to the left and when i tried to break the car kept picking up speed. It jumped onto the side walk beside an unoccupied business space and i knocked out a handycap pole. So in the end i totalled the right wing of my car and basically everything with it, and by everything i mean both front tires, right rim, wing, the signal light, window washing reservoir, possibly power steering box, on top of everything my car was designed so that the engine would drop in case of any accidents so that also means that my transmission is shot too because the gears do not grip onto the flywheel of the engine. so basically my car is done for. the car is not mine it belongs to my mom and my sister i am just their driver ( i just pay for the gas). the cop was nice enough to give me a ticket for speeding in the parking lot and not for drifting. It was a 2008 Mazda Axella (AKA: Mazda 3 sedan) . again the car is not mine but i would really like to restore the car in Legal order. I have almost no money and my family needs a car. please help
PS. the right wheel went back and i think the frame is shifted too. i really like the car
emc2mm9 months ago

Done the same for 40 years, Lucky have not done it the last 15 years. A properly spaced telephone pole, chain type come along (best) and wheel blocks are recommended tools. Nice details

jack ruby10 months ago

Nice work! I wish I had seen this when I rear ended someone in my little ford escort. I knew it *could* be fixed, but wasn't sure where to start. This might give someone the confidence to give it a shot.

dbrooks1610 months ago

You did a great job! I am reminded of my Dad, who would have tackled a project like this in the same way.

Biscuitus10 months ago

Not a bad instructable, this from a guy who built classic cars to customer spec. Since this is a subframe car and it's tracking right I wouldn't think there was frame damage but even it there was it's a snap to change out since you had the front end apart (twice! Don't worry, we've all been there).

For my two cents, for a throw away car like this you did pretty well. But I feel I must point out that a proper shop with the right equipment and doing the job right is not going to be cheap. I've done some insurance work and from what I saw 3 grand wasn't bad, really good if it included paint matching and not using pre painted factory replacements. Considering my shop rate was $75 and hour for labor and $85 for fabrication I could eat up 3k in half a week. But I digress, two things that might help you in the future. When you were straightening out the sides of the supports, a body hammer and dolly can make things alot easier and you can get an el cheapo hammer and dolly from Harbor Freight. If you happen to have a hydraulic floor jack that's small or a bottle jack, those can come in really handy as they give you more control and you can jerry rig all manner of clamps to straighten out any kind of bash, even thicker frame metal if you're careful. Speaking of safety, I know the come along is a standby but I cannot stress enough that if you recommend someone use one that they inspect the cable for the slightest bit of fraying, that they pay it out all the way and look for sharp bends and they inspect the detent pin for any sign of deformation. I almost lost both hands helping my dad put in a 351 Cleveland and I've seen steel line cut people in half from snapping. Also, I would also recommend you use pieces of plate steel, 1/4" would be fine, when you're running a bolt through the panel to be pulled and of course washers. If you can get a piece as big as possible you will also reduce the fatigue on the body steel and that makes it less prone to breakage from fatigue. Keep it up and have fun!

mgosztyła10 months ago

Nice instructable and really good job.

ekl9911 months ago

Nice instructable here is an instructable I found that could be useful for the paint job!


pde marco11 months ago

in some poor countries repairing such damage is mandatory, and u should be very cautious the repair shop have the knowledge required. very good tools u used to do the job and thank u for posting this.

umax_ov1 year 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.

rscott321 year 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)  rscott321 year 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.

imp54541 year ago
I really like it keep up the good work
bstarling1 year ago
Outstanding!!!!!! You have done a wonderful job both in the body work, but the instructable as well. Thanks you.
petercd2 years 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.
EoRaptor0132 years ago
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)  EoRaptor0132 years 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.
altomic2 years ago
totally awesome instructable. so many instructables in one. bookmarked it as a favourite. cheers
ramedia2 years ago
Nice. Thank you for taking the time. I learned a lot. Particularly the usefulness of a come-along as a must have tool.
hmaqueda2 years ago
Muito bom, é uma bela máquina!
fakautz2 years ago
Excellent Job and Instructable. Thanks for sharing.
sally_ab2 years ago
I loved this instructs me, it was like reading a story, I wish I knew how to do stuff like this. Sally
tannerr522 years 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!
oesti2 years 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.
billbillt2 years 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 ?
vincent75202 years ago
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 !
bajablue2 years ago
Congrats, Vyger!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Internet high-five.jpg
iceng2 years ago
Congratulations on FIRST PRIZE ! !

But still not featured ? ? ?

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

Vyger (author)  iceng2 years 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
Vyger (author)  liquidhandwash2 years 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.
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