So you totaled your car. It’s wrecked. Unsalvageable. How do you know? Your insurance company took one look and declared there was no point in trying to fix it. The good news is that your policy will probably pay for a replacement. The bad news is that you have a hulking pile of scrap metal on your hands and it’s your responsibility to dispose of it. Now the glaring question is how you’re going to accomplish that. You can’t put your totaled car out with the weekly trash pickup, and you obviously can’t just drive it over to the nearest junkyard. That’s where car shipping comes into play.
Can you ship a car that’s not working? The quick answer is yes, but most inoperable vehicles that get shipped from place to place are semi-functional. If a car can roll and be steered, and the brakes still work, it’s relatively easy to get it onto a carrier. Shipping a totaled car is a much more complicated process that requires special trucks, equipment, and safety procedures, plus specially trained drivers. No two wrecked vehicles are alike, which means every shipment is unique.
The good news is that there are plenty of auto transport companies that can provide car shipping after an accident. The bad news is that all of that special handling is going to cost you more than you’d pay to transport a working car the exact same distance. Here’s what you need to know about shipping a totaled car to a junkyard, a garage, or (if you’re lucky) someone who wants to purchase your car to salvage the parts.
What it means if your car is unsalvageable
Definitions vary by state, but in general, a vehicle becomes ‘salvage’ when it has been damaged so badly that the company insuring the vehicle has deemed it uneconomical to repair it after an accident. In other words, it would cost more to fix the damage than the car itself is worth. When this happens, the insurance company will issue the owner a payout in the amount of the pre-accident value of the vehicle minus the deductible on the comprehensive or collision coverage, and then take possession of the vehicle. Sometimes instead of issuing a payout, the insuring company will replace a vehicle with one of equal value.
Insurance companies save money by declaring a vehicle unsalvageable, but the decision isn’t purely an economic one. Insurers know that cars that are repaired after sustaining heavy damage will probably not last as long as they would have otherwise and may be less reliable as a result of the damage. They may even be unsafe to drive after repairs.
You don’t have to surrender your vehicle to the insurance company
Once an insurance company takes ownership of a vehicle they have deemed a total loss, it is typically sold to a salvage yard that will then scrap it, repair it, or auction it off. In that case, your insurance company will take care of the car shipping necessary to get your old vehicle to the salvage yard. But you are under no obligation to give your totaled car to your insurance company. Maybe you want to repair it. Or you know someone who’d like to buy it for parts. Your insurer will still go through the process of declaring your car salvage and issuing a payout, but you’ll be able to buy it back from the insurance company for the amount that a scrap yard would have paid for the vehicle.
From there, it will be your responsibility to ship your totaled car to wherever it needs to go to be dismantled for scrap or repaired.
Special equipment is required to transport salvage vehicles
Most car shipping involves nothing more than a car carrier and an extra set of keys. Loading and unloading is a matter of driving on and driving off. Car shipping gets complicated when salvage cars are involved because they can’t be driven and, in some cases, won’t even roll, so they can’t easily be pulled onto a trailer using a winch. A forklift is the only way to load and unload cars that can’t be pulled onto a flatbed truck or rollback tow truck.
Every situation involving a totaled car will be different, however. Auto transport companies that routinely deal with classic cars or that specialize in salvage cars may have the equipment on hand to deal with vehicles that are totally inoperable, but most will require you to pay an additional fee above and beyond the transport cost for the use of the special equipment required. It may also take longer for you to get a ship date because there are very few flatbed shippers. Remember that any special equipment required at pickup will also be necessary at delivery.
Why salvage car shipping is more expensive
As with any move, the price of transporting an inoperable vehicle will be based on the distance it’s going, the pickup and delivery locations, the size of the vehicle, the type of carrier, and the difficulty of the transport. Expect to pay at least $100 more for car shipping than you would if the vehicle was operable, though chances are good that you’ll pay more if your car has sustained structural damage that makes it difficult to fit on a standard flatbed.
You’ll also pay more to ship a salvage vehicle because drivers who work with these cars must be trained in the operation of the aforementioned special equipment and to safely handle vehicles that may be leaking dangerous fluids or present other hazards to a trucker’s safety.
When you reach out to auto transport companies for car shipping quotes, make sure you are upfront about the condition of your car. If you fail to disclose damage, the trucker might show up on your pickup date without the equipment necessary to get your vehicle onto the truck. Should that happen, the best case scenario will involve you having to hold onto your totaled car until the shipper can get the equipment required to ship it. In the worst case scenario, you lose your deposit or are charged for the full amount of the shipment that never happened.
Prepping your car for shipping after an accident
Finding an auto transport company to handle your vehicle after an accident is similar to finding a shipper for a working car in that you should get quotes from a handful of auto transport companies before booking with one. Look for a reliable auto transport company that has been in business for a long time, has great reviews, and offers affordable rates. Just remember that because your situation is unique, booking your transport will be more complicated than getting a quick quote and making a reservation online.
You should always call and speak with a representative of the auto transport company you choose to tell them about your vehicle’s condition and to double check that they offer car shipping for salvage vehicles. Be as detailed as possible when you describe what’s wrong with your car. Can it brake? Does it roll? Is it bent out of shape? Can you steer it? Have the fluids been drained? Is there still gas in the tank?
As noted above, some companies have the equipment necessary to handle non-working, non-rolling, non-braking vehicles in-house, or they can contract with tow companies to load and unload totaled vehicles. Other auto transport companies won’t work with inoperable vehicles at all because they don’t have access to specialized equipment, or they simply don’t want to deal with the procedures necessary to transport totaled vehicles safely. At Montway, we can handle any inoperable or damaged vehicle that is still capable of rolling, braking, and steering.
When you get your ship date, you still need to do some prep. If you haven’t already, remove all personal items from your car. Drain any remaining fluids, if you can do so safely. And make sure you have everything squared away with your insurance company before you transport your vehicle.
Can I DIY any of this?
Loading and unloading a car that can’t roll, doesn’t have tires, or is so bent out of shape and is otherwise tough to move can be tricky. Some people might wonder why they can’t grab a few friends and push or drag their unsalvageable vehicle onto a standard truck. The answer is pretty obvious — pieces of a damaged vehicle being pushed or dragged around a flatbed or any other type of trailer can cause extensive and costly damage. More importantly, the people involved could get seriously hurt. Even though car shipping that involves a non-working vehicle can be pricey, you should leave loading and unloading to the professionals trained to handle it.
Whatever decision you make with regard to your car after an accident, know that there are auto transport companies out there with the experience and resources to handle this type of job. It doesn’t matter if you’re shipping your vehicle to an impound lot to await dismantling, having it delivered to an interested buyer, or bringing it home until you decide what you want to do with it. Your responsibility is to find a reliable auto transport company. Once you do, they will be there to handle everything else.