Introduction: How to Fix a Totaled Car for a Fraction of the "Estimate".

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

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.

Step 1: First Thing to Do Is to Carefully Dismantel the Damaged Areas.

Picture of First Thing to Do Is to Carefully Dismantel the Damaged Areas.

Take Pictures!!

Take pictures of where stuff goes so you can use them for reference when it is time to put things back together.  Try not to cut any wires, wires can be difficult to splice back together so disconnect them when possible but don't cut them.

Remove the Battery

Make sure to remove the battery. It should be one of the first things you do. If it still has a charge then any of the wires could have power in them. You can't get a shock from them but they can short out and burn up an entire wire harnesses or even set the car on fire. Also, if the battery is still good you need to charge it up right away to keep it from sulfateing. If it sits in an uncharged condition for a length of time it will become nonchargeable and no good. If it is below freezing and the battery does not have a charge then it can freeze and the ice will warp the plates and cause physical damage and short it out permanently.

Get a Repair Manual on your Car

A good repair manual will help you a lot in a project like this. It is a reference for how things are supposed to be and it can have a lot of tips for dismantling and reassembling

Resist the temptation to just hammer things off.  Remove bolts whenever possible and put all of them in a safe place like a coffee can with a lid. As you remove parts you will get a better idea of just how deep the damage goes.

Don't throw parts out until its all finished

Keep track of the damaged parts, make a list if necessary because you will need to get replacements. Make a shopping list and it will be a lot easier when you go looking for parts.  Where will you get parts??? By far the very best place is an auto salvage yard more commonly known as a  junk yard, and this is why its important for you to remove your damaged parts because a lot of times you are going to be getting salvage parts from other cars and you will need to remove the replacement parts unless you want to pay a premium for someone else to do it for you. So make mental notes of what tools you will need and how to get those strange bolts loose and what you will need to do it.


Step 2: Drain the Fluids and Save Them Carefully.

Picture of Drain the Fluids and Save Them Carefully.
Save the Anti Freeze if Possible

If your radiator is intact and holding water, drain out the antifreeze and save as much as you can. Put it in a container that you can seal to keep dirt and also animals out of it. It is poisonous and animals that drink it will die.

You can't save the Air Conditioner Coolant

If your air conditioner still has coolant in it then you are going to have to vent it. I know that you are supposed to take it to a service place and have them remove and recover the refrigerant but lets be realistic here. The car is not drivable, you can't take it anywhere. They won't come to you and if they actually did they would charge you a fortune for it. The value of the refrigerant is not that much. Its about 20 bucks worth. And since this is not Freon it is meant to be environmentally safe. So just accept the fact that some is going to escape. I made a short video to show you how to safely remove the hoses. If there is refrigerant in it, it will come out in a big puff and the compressor oil is going to go everywhere. It makes a loud bang. Mine was empty because it had a hole punched in the condenser in the accident. At the junk yard the system in the car I was salvaging was still charged. When I unscrewed the first bolt it all came out. That actually was great because it told me that the condenser I was buying was good. It had been holding pressure for years, so I knew it was good.

Keep your distance when you unscrew these lines.



To remove radiator hoses take the clamps off and slide them back along the hose.  Don't try and pull the hose off, instead try and twist it to break its connection and then twisting and pulling work it off the connector.  You can also use a screwdriver but not in the way you might think. If there is room you can put the blade of the screwdriver between the hose end and the radiator and twist the screwdriver. This will push the hose away from the radiator. Use leverage rather than yanking on the hose.

Transmission cooling lines

The little hoses are the cooling lines for the transmission. They run through the radiator and also through the little cooling unit in front of the radiator. They will leak transmission fluid when you disconnect them. If you can find a dowel that fits you can plug them temporarily to keep it from leaking fluid everywhere. The transmission fluid in the radiator is going to leak out. Again try and push the lines off with a screwdriver if possible. Expect them to leak fluid. Keep some rags handy to soak it up.

Stupid Plastic Rivets

Then there are those stupid plastic rivets and fasteners. You can just cut them off if you want. I try and salvage them if I can because the stupid things cost almost a buck each for replacements. Push the center pins out with a pair of long nose pliers and pull the rivets out. Some you can't save and for those a pair of wire cutters works great for snapping the rivets off.

Save ALL the Bolts and Screws

By the way, when you dismantle a car at the junk yard, keep all the bolts and screws and plastic rivets. After all they are part of the stuff you are buying and having a few extra can be very handy.

Step 3: Get Ready to Go Shopping.

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Go Shopping

With all the broken and damaged parts removed you now know what you are going to need for replacement parts. Make a trip to an auto wrecking yard, maybe even several of them, and tell them what you are looking for. They will know where the parts cars are and if they have enough parts for what you need. Ask them for an estimate of what it all will cost you. There are no set prices for used parts so feel free to dicker with them if the price seems to high. Let them know you would rather get all the parts from one place for one price but that if you need to look elsewhere you will.

I didn't even take any tools with me the first visit. I was trying to find where I would get the parts from and what was available. They usually will not buy stuff back from you so find the best parts that you want before you even pick up a wrench.

I needed a hood, an AC condenser, maybe a radiator, and the fans. The top metal piece or brace or whatever they call it, 2 headlights, The plastic pieces that were broken and the front bumper cover. One junk yard had 2 different cars that had all the parts I needed between them so we agreed on a price. They charged me $175 for everything and I removed the parts myself.  From a dealer just one headlight is over $300, and a hood is over $400. But these are not in new pristine condition. I had to degrease everything and clean it all  up.

If you are getting air conditioner parts take some plastic sandwich bags with you and put them over the open hose ends and put rubber bands around them. You don't want to get dirt and water in the lines. Keep track of your tools, anything you leave behind will belong to the next guy who finds it.  If it looks like you will need help with heavy parts have a friend come and help, or you can even hire a high school kid to help. They will love just being there and they are usually interested in learning things like how to salvage parts.

Take all your parts home and clean them up. Lay them in the sun for a few days to dry. You will probably need to clean them several times to get all the grime off.

Step 4: One of the Best Body Repair Tools, the Come-a-long.

Picture of One of the Best Body Repair Tools, the Come-a-long.
When things get pushed in you need to pull them back out. That is what a come-a-long can do. It is a hand winch with a steal cable. You attach one end to something that will not move, like a utility pole and the other end goes on what you want to stretch out. Sometimes the hardest part is finding a place for it to grab. I needed to pull the front bumper supports out and in this case I managed to get a big bolt into them to give me something to grab on to.

Having a collection of things like big old bolts can really be handy. A piece of junk can become a tool in the right circumstances. 

Set the parking brake and block the tires of the vehicle so it stays put.

I ran the bolt through the hole, put the nut on and hooked the cable to it. Take up the slack in the cable and ratchet it until it is tight.  When it is tight enough to pluck like a guitar string, stop. This has to be a controlled process. It is possible that just ratcheting the cable will stretch out your dent but probably not. You need to add a little more force and the best way to do this is to step or sit on the cable and bounce it a little. You will see the dent move forward with each bounce. Be gentle, just do it as much as you need otherwise you will be pounding things back in the other direction.



When I hit a deer with my minivan it pushed the front radiator support all the way back to the engine. Using just a come-a-long I was able to pull it all back out to its original position. I moved the hook around to different spots and pulled it out in small amounts so it came back out straight with no problems. It is amazing what you can do this way.

Step 5: Hammer Time.

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Pulling out parts will only work so far. Sometimes you need to get a hammer and pound on things a little.

The sides of the supports got pushed out so with the cable still tensioned I hammered on the bowed out parts and some of them moved back to where they were supposed to be. Don't get carried away with the hammer. Hit it a little and if nothing happens then hit it harder. Do one hit and check your progress. A little bit at a time is the best way to do it.

Some were a little harder because of being crushed in. I used a combination of punches and chisels to push and hammer the metal back to where it should be. Hammering a punch down alongside the front will push the steal out if its not bent to badly.

What I found really annoying was that I was repairing damage from the deer hit that my daughter paid to have repaired. They never pulled the damage out but instead just hid it. All the damage to the driver side support was from a deer hit because the main impact of this accident was on the other side. If they don't fix it they should at least not charge you for it.

You can use any type of steal as a tool for doing stuff like this but keep in mind that soft steal will likely deform. Punches that are made for hammering on work really good.

After I was satisfied with the results of all the hammering I sprayed everything with a coat of primer. It will help keep the metal from rusting.

One thing I was surprised about in this whole process was how soft the car's metal is. It is very easy to bend. Some things were so thin you could bend it with a pair of pliers.

Step 6: Bumper Bashing

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Now that the supports were straight I started putting things back together.  That didn't get very far. When I tried to put the bumper on I found that the holes did not match up. They were about an inch off. Well, this actually makes sense because the bumper is curved and as you can see from the first pictures it was pushed back far enough to crack it in the reverse direction. This means that as it was getting pushed back it was exerting an outward force on the support arms and so bent them outward.

Not a problem.

Take your trusty comealong and attach it to each arm and ratchet it together. It worked a little bit but not enough so now it was time to bring out the big hammer.



Using a sledge hammer and with the comealong adding tension, whack the outside of the support arms to force them back into position. Hit them in a place where you won't dent them but can get enough force to make an adjustment.  This can take several times. Don't hit it really hard, just a good solid hit and then check the alignment of the holes. (Also make sure to loosen the bolts of the bottom support so it allows the arms to bend.) When the bolt holes line up you are done. DO NOT go to far.

Step 7: Straighten the Radiator

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When the AC condensor got punched in it bent the radiator behind it. The radiator did not leak so that meant that it might be possible to salvage it.  Why bother? Well, this was a new radiator that was a little more than a year old so it still had a lot of life left in it. Also the radiator I got from the junk yard was not the same. The 3.2 engine has an extra transmission cooler on the other side of the radiator so it is different from the standard. The junk yard did not have any 3.2 engine cars and so no radiators. If I could not fix it I might have to get a new one.

Aluminum is a soft metal and bends easily. The core of this radiator is aluminum. It should be able to be bent back.

That's called using your feet

First I put it on a flat surface and pushed on the main bulge with my foot. Yes, I stepped on it to make it straight. That got it close.

And then use a rubber hammer

Next I took a rubber mallet and gently hammered out the high spots using a wooden block in back for an anvil. I checked it with a straight edge to make sure I got it even. It flattened out just fine.

Then I had to repair the little fins that got bent in the accident and that got bent from me hammering it. I used an old linoleum knife and just bent the fins back up. Its tedious but its part of the job.

Step 8: Assemble the Radiator.

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Now that the radiator is flat its time to put it all together.  With this car the radiator is sandwiched in between the AC condenser and the electric fans. It forms a unit when its all bolted together and it makes it easy to put it into the car. So put it together and place it on the bottom radiator support. The rubber legs fit right into the holes so you can't really get it wrong.

Hook up the transmission cooling lines and then the radiator hoses. Plug the fans in and make sure nothing is in the way of them turning. Fill the radiator with the saved antifreeze and check that its not coming out somewhere as you you put it in.

Don't charge the Air Conditioner Yet

Hook up the AC lines but be careful how you do it.  First, don't damage the O rings in any way. Wipe the connectors with a clean rag so there is no dirt in them. Now, to hook up these lines, do not put the connector in the hole and then try and thread the screw in.  This is soft aluminum and the screws can strip the threads out with just a little force. First, hand thread the screws into the condenser and make sure they are going in correctly. You should be able to turn them with no resistance if they are threaded the right way. Once the screws are started, slip the AC line over the bolt and then push it into the hole. Now tighten down the bolt. It will draw the hose into the right position and when it is flat with the surface it is seated properly.

Step 9: Put in the Battery, Start It Up.

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This should be the fun step. With the radiator in place and hooked up you can start the engine, after you put the battery in.

Don't run the engine without the radiator hooked up

Why Not?  Because there is still a lot of antifreeze in the engine block and with this car the water pump is powered internally so if you start it up it will spray out all the antifreeze and make a big mess and add the cost of antifreeze to your list. Second, the transmission will pump fluid through those little cooling hoses and you will have that nice red fluid everywhere except in the transmission.


I had to get a new battery for this car because the old one was damaged in the accident. Some of the plates shorted out and it would not keep a charge.

The battery in this car is mounted in what has to be the worst place they could think to put it. You actually have to jack the car up and take the wheel off to get access to where it goes.  You also have to take the headlight out in order to service it. Its a half day project just to put in the stupid battery.

So, I finally got that in place, had power again finally and cranked the engine over.

It started with no problem.

Sometimes things are a Pain

But it was making a racket. I tracked down the noise and it was coming from a tensioner pulley. But much more serious than that I noticed that the crankshaft pulley was wobbling. It is also called a harmonic balancer. Apparently it was bent from being impacted in the accident. It was about 1/4 inch off. This was a problem. If the balancer wobbles it will tear up the bearing and the seal of the crankshaft. It is also possible for it to actually cause the shaft to break since the shaft is hardened but brittle steal. So, I would need to replace it. That meant that I was going to have to drain the radiator  and disconnect all the hoses and remove the whole assembly so I could pull the pulley off.  What a pain.

Step 10: Changing the Harmonic Balancer.

Picture of Changing the Harmonic Balancer.

Some parts you need to buy new

The harmonic balancer is a key part. It drives all the belts among other things. I did not want to put in a used part here because this is such an important part. So I got a new balancer for $65.00

To take it off you need to use a puller.

I took out the center bolt and then set up the puller to take the pulley off. These things are on really tight, you cannot just pry it off.

What NOT to do

I used a socket extension bar in the shaft hole for the puller to push against. I thought it was a good idea. It fit perfectly. This turned out to be a bad idea. The pulley did come loose and start to move off the shaft the way it is supposed to. Then it reached the socket flare so I had to change to something else. Only problem was I found the extension was stuck. I guess it was softer steal than I realized and it somehow jammed itself in the bolt hole. What fun. I could not get anything to get a grip on it including vise grips. It finally dawned on me that there was a way to grab it, sort of, and that was to put a breaker bar in the socket hole. So, with that I managed to jerk it back and forth and it got loose. With the breaker bar and a nail puller crow bar I finally got the thing out. What I ended up using there instead to get the pulley the rest of the way off was a large drill bit. I put the bit in the hole and the puller against the butt end and that got the pulley off. I also figured that if the bit got stuck I could attach it to a drill and spin it out but that wasn't necessary. 

Just another little job that ended up taking all day ----- . It's how we learn to do things better.

I tried putting the bolt into the hole, just out of paranoia, and sure enough it tore up the bolt threads. So I now needed to get out the tap and die set and clean up the threads on the bolt and the threads in the shaft as they apparently were damaged by my socket extension.  The tap cleaned it out with no trouble so it wasn't damaged badly. I shot a squirt of WD 40 into it to wash out the metal bits and then blew it out with compressed air.

Next problem

It is recommended that the pulley be put on with a special tool. I didn't have one. I really didn't want to buy one. I did a Google search and found a lot of comments about it. If you hammer on the front of the pulley. trying to hammer it onto the shaft, it can flatten the steal and make it impossible to get on all the way. In addition hammering on the crankshaft can do damage to the bearings inside the engine.  Then I found a Youtube of one Long time mechanic who said its really simple. You use a rubber mallet to hammer it part way until the center bolt can reach the inner threads. The mallet won't do any damage to anything, it will just take a few extra hits to get it on. I do have a rubber mallet. it worked perfectly. So, bang on it with a rubber hammer like a preschooler until you can get the center bolt to grab. Then just use your ratchet and the bolt will seat it the rest of the way.  Ta Da. Put the belts back on and tighten them to the recommended amount. Then quit for the day while you are ahead.

As it turned out the idler pulley for the air conditioner belt was bad also. So I ended up replacing all of them. I would highly recommend that if you are ever in the position that the front of the engine is open that you go ahead and replace the pulleys and maybe even the belts as it is a lot easier to do when its all open.

Step 11: Some Assembly Required.

Picture of Some Assembly  Required.
With practice you get better

Now that the crankcase pulley is done I can go back to putting things together. Put the radiator assembly back in and hook up all the hoses again. Fill it with antifreeze and then start it up again. This time its very quiet. No noise other than the engine noise. So that was a success. Run the engine until it gets warm and the fans turn on. You need to check  to make sure the fans are working so you don't run into trouble later.

Now the top piece can be put in place. This is actually a pretty important part. It ties together the top part of the engine. It keeps the radiator in place, provides a place to secure the plastic bumper and provides  a way to mount the headlights. I could have tried to hammer out the bent one but I thought it would be better to get one that was factory correct so I could tell if everything was lining up right. If some of the holes were off then it was due to the parts underneath being out of alignment.

More Adjustments

Once again the friendly comealong comes into play. If something has been pushed back you can hook on to it and pull it into alignment. Just be careful not to over pull something and not bend something that is not supposed to be bent. This part also holds the hood in place so its important that it be pretty close to where its supposed to be.



Double Check your work

Its actually beginning to look like it should. After you get all the bolts in go through them again and give them a last turn. Don't over tighten them so they strip, but don't leave them lose either. Always, after you bolt something down run back over all the bolts again and give them a final crank.

Step 12: Headlights

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Now that the front frame is in place the headlights can be put in place. Also this is when you can make sure the wiring harness is in the right place and secured.

A word about the headlights ---- Almost all the lights on older cars are foggy. This happens from weathering and such. Buying used lights you are almost assured that they will be foggy. But this can be fixed. There are kits available for restoring the lights and they really do work.  The best one I have run across so far is made by Turtle Wax and is simply called "headlight lens restorer". It did a fantastic job on the lights. I took one of the broken lights which was really foggy and cleaned a spot on it. You can really see the difference. This stuff makes them like new. For only 8 bucks you get like new lights. One of the lights I got was so foggy that I couldn't really see the inside. When I did clean it up I discovered that it had had water inside it and so had tarnished the reflective coating. Oh well, that one is a little duller than the other one. I might get a replacement if it bothers me to much.

The lights are made to be adjusted. After you bolt them in place check to see that they line up correctly. They will almost for sure need to be adjusted.

If a light unit does not go in easily or seams to fit wrong don't force it. You may still have some frame elements that are off. Make fine adjustments if you need to by pulling out or even pushing in mounting brackets. Remember, this is a traumatized vehicle, its going to be a little off. Be patient with it and you can get it right.

Step 13: Really Stupid Stuff

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In the process of putting in the headlights and connecting up all the various wires I found a couple of bolts missing from where the fender bolts to the body on the drivers side. (Hint, the side of the deer impact). No problem, I have a can full of extra screws and bolts. I wondered though why someone would have taken them out while removing the torn up plastic bumper since they had no connection to it. Whatever, I screwed them down. Later when I went to open the drivers side door to turn on the lights, the door edge hit the fender and ground against it. This made no sense because this had not happened before and it was not even close to where the damage from the accident was. Then I remembered my daughter had complained after getting the car back from the repair shop that the door hit the fender when it was opened. I called her and talked to her and she said the shop had fixed it after she complained.  Yeah, "fixed it" by removing the bolts from the fender so it hung loose. Brilliant. Didn't it occur to them to just adjust the stupid door. The door was in fact to far forward. The gap in the doors on the drivers side was larger than on the other side and the door had not been sealing correctly since the accident. This was just stupid.
I removed the fender as it just bolts on and tried to see what was going on. It is possible that there was some place where it had been bent and so did not line up. I could not see anything. I loosened the door hinges and slid the door back an eighth of an inch or so. When I put the fender back on everything was just fine. the door cleared the fender, seated correctly in the frame and all the bolts were now in the fender. This is really basic body stuff, how did these people get this so wrong?

So I suppose the bottom line here is never trust a repair shop. If they say they fixed something have them show you how they fixed it.

Step 14: Replace the Hood

Picture of Replace the Hood

Get a helping hand

Hoods are not heavy but they are large and difficult to change by yourself. You really need an assistant for this step. And keep in mind that it is possible for the hood to slide down and hit the windshield. The pointed edges would probably punch a nice hole in it. So get help for this.

All you have to do is take the bolts out and lift the hood off. Then bring over the replacement and put the bolts back in. You can adjust its position by sliding it around on the supports. The bolt holes are big enough so you have a little room. On this car the hinge hood supports were not bent by the accident. But they easily can be. They are not really heavy duty, their job is mostly just to hold the hood in the right place. If you do have bent hinges get replacements when you get your hood. It is also possible to bend the hinges to adjust them if they are not mangled to badly. You can put a block of wood under them and close the hood to bend them. Just figure out which way you have to go and use the leverage of the hood. Again, make small adjustments a little at a time.

My hood did not line up straight with the fenders. It did on one side but not the other. Again it is possible that the car was bent 1/2 inch but there is no way for me to fix that. Instead I adjusted the fender to match the hood.

The hood latch is usually adjustable also. Once you get the hood in the right position and the hinges bolted tightly, lower it and see where it hits on the latch. Loosen the adjusting bolts and move the latch to match up with the catch. Tighten those down and then close it tight and check it for fit. There are a number of adjuster and bumpers that will allow you to get the hood to match up with the rest of the car. A car book will have all the details.

I left the headlights unbolted while I was adjusting the hood. I didn't want to take a chance on the hood being to low and hitting them. You might want to do the same thing. Plastic will always break first rather than steal so watch out for plastic parts.

Step 15: The Last Piece, the Big Plastic "Bumper Cover"

Picture of The Last Piece, the Big Plastic "Bumper Cover"

Its called a bumper cover and not a bumper I found out. Its basically a big piece of molded plastic. But it hides all the internal stuff and makes the car look good. It does not do much in a collision except break into pieces. There is a chunk, or perhaps chunks of foam behind it that fill in the gaps between it and the steal bumper support. It is held in place by those stupid plastic rivets and perhaps a few screws. A car dealer will charge you a lot for one, around $400.00. You can buy a new one on  E bay for $100.00 that is primed and ready to paint. Or you can get one at a auto salvage yard for next to nothing but it almost for sure will not be the color that matches your car and probably will have scratches on it and maybe a coating of bugs. I wasn't really worried about the color, I wanted cheap. 

These are pretty easy to put on. This one has holes that line up to the holes in main support for the hood. Slide that on first and just stick bolts through the holes to keep it in place. Then go around to the fenders and lift and slide it into place. With mine there is a support that it slides onto to hold it and then a screw goes through the bumper, the wheel well liner (also plastic) and then is secured into the fender. Once that is in all you have to do is stick the plastic rivets into the holes and push them tight. Your done, its that easy.

Step 16: Charge Up the Air Conditioner

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After you test drive the car and are certain that you are not going to have to take the radiator assembly out again, you can charge the air conditioning system.

I have had to have this done several times and the minimum I paid was $75.00  It is not the coolant that costs that. So I decided to buy the equipment to do it myself since only 2 recharging's would pay for it.  I bought a vacuum pump so I could evacuate the lines and a manifold valve thingy that hooks up to the lines and lets you know if things are going the way they are supposed to go. It cost me $150.00. I have now told my friends that I can recharge their air conditioners because I have the equipment, and that it will cost them $40.00 and they buy the coolant. All I need is four cars and I am making a profit. 

Hook up the lines and the vacuum pump and let it run for a little while, maybe 5 or 10 minutes. You should read a vacuum on the gauge. Shut the pump off and close the valves and leave it sit for half the day (or a whole day) It should still show a vacuum. It might go up a little but if it has lost its vacuum completely then you have a leak somewhere.

If you have no leaks then disconnect the pump (after running it again to get out as much air and moisture as it can) and hook up the lines for the coolant. Start the engine and follow the directions on how to add the coolant. Its pretty simple. It does take a while for it to all get in there.  Add as much as they recommend. I bought some special leak sealing additive and a lubricant also. It is designed for older systems that have some wear. All together I put in one can of that and one can of coolant and it cost me $20.00

Step 17: On the Road Again

Picture of On the Road Again

I am not going to tell you that this was a simple and easy project. Just about each of the steps could be an instructable by itself. This is really an overview in that there are a lot of little details left out. But the point is that if you want to take the time and tackle a project like this, it is possible to do and at a considerable savings. Nothing was really hard. It just takes the tools and you. You need to believe in yourself that you can figure out a way to get things done. And you need to be determined to devote enough time to it to do it right.

The Cost Breakdown

I paid  $175.00 for parts at the junk yard.

I bought a Harmonic balancer for $65.00
and the replacement Pulleys were about 20 each so that was another $40.00
Lets say $110. for those parts.

I bought about $15 worth of those stupid plastic rivets.

The Air conditioner coolant was $20.

I spent about $5 for degreaser.

A new battery cost me $75.00

That all totals up to $400.00

So, I repaired 3,000 dollars in damage for 400 dollars worth of parts.  Now to be fair, its not painted the right color.  I have been thinking about that because I have several vehicles that could use some paint. So right now my thinking is to get a good paint spray gun and do that myself also.  Maybe yet another instructable!

If you add in to the above, the $300 for the salvage cost, the $125 for towing, and the 70 to transfer the title, I have invested about  $900 in this vehicle. With a book value of over $2500 that is not a bad investment.  And I know the car, there are no surprise issues.

And it drives really great!

So, how ironic is it that the daughter is now driving a conservative, gray, economical car and the dad has the almost all red sporty (rocket car) car that goes from 0 to 60 in 8 seconds.

Cool, wonder what color I should paint it.

Oh, and I found some super custom made LED headlights for it on  E bay -----  well, I did save a lot on fixing it, Maybe a little extra for the fancy stuff would be OK.

Comments

Fairview115 (author)2016-12-11

if you know what parts you need, go get them and use them as a reference to see where and the bolt holes are. They put them in the smallest hardest to get to places.

rossbphoto (author)2016-12-07

I feel like you are my fellow kindred autobody repair diy spirit! I am going through almost the exact same repairs on my Toyota truck. Now I know I'm not crazy for using a come-a-long to straighten out the body parts! (I call it my dent time machine.) I'm only about 50% done and I'm happy to have come across this now as I'm sure heeding some of your advice will be saving me time. From my experience I found that the most time consuming (and tedious) part of this project is finding the best deals and correct fit on replacement parts. I want to be holding a wrench not a mouse! All told I will probably be saving around 3K by doing it myself. I know not everyone can find the time to tackle such a project but for me it was well worth it. Thanks for the fun read!

CATAPULTSTEAMSHOP (author)2016-10-01

I really enjoyed the depth you went into

CATAPULTSTEAMSHOP (author)2016-10-01

please make more- I really enjoy your cantor and the engineering banter! Alot of this I already knew, but honestly this was 100x more entertaining than any magazine I've ever read! a quick trasliteration for the hipsters: "you rocked my socks off"

MarkK70 (author)2016-08-15

Great job but I doubt if could sustain in the long run. Well if you only what you are looking for, salvage cars be a good deal but safety might be at risks. See its vin history report if you want to know if it has a salvage title http://www.vinaudit.com/coupon=JJKL50OFF

JalynetteA (author)2015-12-10

Hello I have an Audi A6 2005 and I hit a deer on my way to work and it only messed up my side door and mirror and side window the insurance sent me to the Audis dealership shop! And the insurance paid for my rental! For a month now I haven't had my car and they finally called me to pick it up today and when I go there telling me it doesn't want to turn on. I told them that my car never had mechanical problems and they said they didn't have anything to do with that but they did change a few wires in my car that needed it supposedly my question is why are they even messing with my wires or telling me I need a oil change etc if all I did was sent the car to get the door and window and mirror fixed the guy said he spent $400 out of his pocket because he had messed something up which I think he jus messed up the car! Now there saying I have to pay for them messing it up basically because it's not turning on I didn't sign no paper work stating that I told them to tell me if I'm missing anything in my car or to touch any parts of those! They never called me to tell me what was wrong with my car! I'm so fed up it's not fair that I haven't seem my car over a month and when I get it back it doesn't wanna turn on when I drove it to them all beat up and it drives perfectly fine!!! I want it back the same way I took it to them! Can someone please help me out here! Thank you!

farna (author)2015-11-27

Great job! TroyV is correct in why insurance companies often total cars that don't look that bad. Damaged items that aren't first apparent tend to be found along, so the estimate usually ends up a little low. Shop rates have to be taken into account also -- much higher than your labor rate! So yes, you can often repair a car yourself for under what you get from the insurance company, as long as you have the skills and find used parts. Inspect thoroughly -- if it has "frame" damage it's best to leave it alone. If you don't know what I mean it's best that YOU leave it alone... Note that some states will issue a "salvage" title to a car that has been totaled by the insurance company. That will reduce value if you have a wreck or go to sell the car later. Doesn't matter if you're going to drive it for a while, of course, but do take that into account when repairing.

RobertH136 (author)2015-11-07

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RobertH136 (author)2015-11-07



Your article has
piqued my interest. This is definitely a thinker's article with great content
and interesting viewpoints. I agree in part with a lot of this content. Thank
you for sharing this informational material.

TroyV (author)2015-03-23

"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)TroyV2015-04-03

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.

TroyV (author)Vyger2015-09-27

Just read your post, as I haven't been on Instructables in a while. You did a pretty job figuring out how to repair a damaged vehicle with limited tools & knowledge of the industry. With that said, your quote of "they (insurance company) were going to do what they were going to do no matter what my opinion.", may need a little discussion also.

Insurance companies will take your opinion into consideration at times. It depends on the situation. If the car had a tear-down (taken apart) prior to totaling & the estimate was a tight estimate @, lets say $2400 as in my previous post was $2600. I will ask the owner what they would like to be done with the damaged vehicle. I would ask the owner if they would like a repair or a total. Most of the times the owner will elect for a repair, as they know that car & its history. So, opinions DO matter. I try to do what is always best for all party's involved.

BTW, nice post!

OmarJ3 (author)2015-08-12

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!!

awhite72 (author)2015-02-08

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

emc2mm (author)2014-11-16

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 ruby (author)2014-10-27

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.

dbrooks16 (author)2014-10-21

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

Biscuitus (author)2014-10-21

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!

mgosztyła (author)2014-10-11

Nice instructable and really good job.

ekl99 (author)2014-09-30

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

https://www.instructables.com/id/Paint-your-own-car-for-under-200-or-how-I-learne/

pde marco (author)2014-09-09

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_ov (author)2014-06-15

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.

rscott32 (author)2014-03-17

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)rscott322014-05-09

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.

imp5454 (author)2013-10-17

I really like it keep up the good work

bstarling (author)2013-09-15

Outstanding!!!!!! You have done a wonderful job both in the body work, but the instructable as well. Thanks you.

petercd (author)2013-08-28

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.

EoRaptor013 (author)2013-07-15

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)EoRaptor0132013-07-16

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?

EoRaptor013 (author)EoRaptor0132013-07-15

Aack! The review button lied! Sorry about the extra line spaces.

archangel-of-maching (author)2013-07-15

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.

altomic (author)2013-07-14

totally awesome instructable. so many instructables in one. bookmarked it as a favourite. cheers

ramedia (author)2013-07-13

Nice. Thank you for taking the time. I learned a lot. Particularly the usefulness of a come-along as a must have tool.

hmaqueda (author)2013-07-13

Muito bom, é uma bela máquina!

fakautz (author)2013-07-13

Excellent Job and Instructable. Thanks for sharing.

sally_ab (author)2013-07-13

I loved this instructs me, it was like reading a story, I wish I knew how to do stuff like this. Sally

tannerr52 (author)2013-07-12

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!

oesti (author)2013-07-12

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 ;)

jeremyrainman (author)2013-07-12

!!!!!
You should probably black-out the license plate numbers, the internet has no shortage of crazies.

billbillt (author)2013-07-12

Very ambitious project!..Very good job with a lot of patience on your part..

gravityisweak (author)2013-06-24

Great documentation and a good read! Tons of pictures and videos too, bravo sir!

steveastrouk (author)2013-04-09

Better than a Haynes manual !!

I wonder where you can access all the magic numbers, when you straighten the car out ?

vincent7520 (author)2012-09-28

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 !

bajablue (author)2012-09-25

Congrats, Vyger!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

iceng (author)2012-09-24

Congratulations on FIRST PRIZE ! !

But still not featured ? ? ?

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

A

Vyger (author)iceng2012-09-24

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.

liquidhandwash (author)2012-09-24

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)liquidhandwash2012-09-24

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.

liquidhandwash (author)Vyger2012-09-24

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.

Ricardo Furioso (author)2012-09-18

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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