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The 'Totaled' Vs. 'Totally Destroyed' Vehicle

To dispel the myth that the physical appearance of a damaged vehicle is a reliable indicator of the dollar value or salvage value of the vehicle.

SUBJECT: The "Totaled" Vs. "Totally Destroyed" Vehicle
TOPIC: Understanding the dollar value of damaged vehicles
OBJECTIVE: To dispel the myth that the physical appearance of a damaged vehicle is a reliable indicator of the dollar value or salvage value of the vehicle
TASK: Explain the difference between a 'totaled' vehicle at an accident scene and one that is 'totally' destroyed

How many times have you maneuvered a patient out the driver's door onto a longboard and had to fight with the open front door? No one on the scene widened the door beyond it's normal range of motion because they didn't want to cause any extra damage to the car. Have you ever compromised your sense of what's right and moved a patient a bit more than you wanted to because the B-post was in the way or the dash was too close? Again, rescuers hesitated to cut or move metal because the car didn't look 'totaled' and they didn't want to further damage someone else's property.

In this modern day as the rescue tools we work with become increasing more sophisticated and the vehicles we work on change to resemble melted jelly beans, one thing still remains the same. Rescue personnel continue to hesitate to do anything they believe will cause "unnecessary" damage to wrecked vehicles that will be 'totaled' by the insurance company.

Today, the reality of vehicle rescue is that vehicles are designed by the manufacturer to be disposable. When people are trapped in a vehicle, that car or van or pickup truck is worth nothing no matter how little apparent damage there is to the vehicle. Extrication personnel should do all that is necessary to safely and efficiently remove the vehicle from the victim without concern of causing any further damage to the vehicle.

To further illustrate this important point, this University of Extrication lesson depicts several views of a damaged 1994 Ford Taurus automobile. The automobile was involved in a head-on collision, typical of many of the thousands of head-on collisions that occur each year.

Surveying the exterior of the vehicle as we would do when arriving at the scene of this accident, collision damage to the body exterior, engine compartment area, and structural components is evident. Inspection of the interior of the Taurus reveals very minor damage; a broken rearview mirror, damaged cruise controls and a loose headliner. The dual airbag deployment did not damage the dashboard or the windshield as is generally the case. We also see that the airbag system activated during the collision and deployed both dual front airbags.

Through the outstanding cooperation of Mr. John Long, manager of Lewis Paint and Body Center, Inc., (Plano, TX) an actual collision damage repair report was provided so we may truly see the damage in terms of actual repair costs. for a moment, let's all pretend we work as insurance adjusters. They have a different outlook on collisions that we do a emergency response personnel.

According to the collision damage repair report, at the front of the vehicle we'll need replacement of the bumper, energy absorbing assembly, and side marker lights at a cost of $1,173.86. Under the hood, replacement of the air conditioner and heater unit, condenser, accumulator, cooling fan, battery, and all related hardware will cost $1,505.79 more.

Replacement costs for body damage to the hood and fender, side accent panels, splash shield, and trim panels totals another $1,266.68. (The hood alone costs over $400).

Repairs to the windshield fluid reservoir and replacement of the broken inside mirror amount to $97.32. Close examination of the headliner inside reveals that it too has been damaged during the collision and will need to be replaced at a cost of $398.80.

In what is probably the most startling portion of the collision damage report, it is apparent that the restraint system must be completely replaced before this Taurus can be considered completely repaired. The restraint system replacement costs include the driver's side air bag module, $579.44, the passenger side air bag module, $772.61, all three air bag collision sensors, $193.07, the electronic airbag diagnostic unit, $165, and the electrical contact unit known as the clockspring that is located within the steering column, a $96.13 item.

The manufacturer also requires that any seatbelt system in use at the time of the collision be totally replaced. This is because unseen stress damage may occur to the nylon webbing and ratchet assembly of the seatbelt system. Because two occupants were in this Taurus when the collision occurred and both had their seatbelts on, the left and right outer seatbelt assembly retractor units must be replaced for a total of $108.80.

Replacement costs for all these parts total $6,737.50. When almost 70 hours of labor is added, at a cost of $2,033.50, and taxes of $585.71 is paid, the total collision repair costs to restore this Taurus is $9,356.71.

To determine whether this car will be repaired or not, the insurance company appraiser will compare the collision damage report against the 'book value' of the car. If repair costs equal or exceed 70% of the cars' book value, the car is officially "totaled' by the insurance company and sold as scrap metal. Book value is the current worth of the vehicle as established by sources such as the National Automobile Dealers Association, NADA. With 42,858 miles on the odometer, this car has a book value of $10,825 as listed in the NADA Official Used Car Guide. For this Taurus, 70% of its book value is $7,577.50.

The itemized report, showing that if this car were repaired, the costs would be $9,356.71, exceeds not only the 70% threshold but is within $1,500 of the book value of the automobile itself!

This Taurus is 'totaled' by the insurance company and will be sold at auction to an automobile wholesaler. The car, however, is not what rescuers think of as 'totally destroyed' because it really doesn't look that badly damaged. At an accident scene, fire, rescue, and EMS personnel must realize that modern vehicles such as this are designed to be disposable. This car is worth nothing to us or its owner trapped inside. There is nothing that rescue personnel should hesitate to do to the vehicle if that assignment would improve rescuer safety or assure better EMS care for the trapped occupants.

Our safety at the accident scene and the well-being of our patients are the only things that have value. With rescue tools in hand, and a piece of the car in the way, I say "if in doubt, take it out". The car is disposable. We aren't!