When someone mentions that a car was totaled, do you picture a massive accident that disfigures the vehicle? In reality, the accident that totals a car may leave it strikingly undamaged.
Insurance companies will consider a vehicle totaled if the cost to repair it after an accident exceeds a certain percentage of its value. Many states specify standards for this valuation, though for many insurance companies, the standard limit is 75 percent of the vehicle's total value. In this situation, the insurer sees replacing the vehicle as a more financially wise option than repairing it [source: Carfax].
A salvage title should, first and foremost, be a warning flag that a car may have been damaged in an accident. The plastic body panels and high-tech components that go into today's cars can mean that even a small accident might lead to very expensive repairs. An accident could also cause subtle -- but irreparable -- damage to the car's frame or other critical parts.
Insurance companies may be more likely to repair a car if they choose to use alternative parts -- components from manufacturers other than the one that built the car. While the quality of these parts is supposed to equal that of the original vehicle, it's worth investigating how a car was repaired if it was ever in an accident. If the car was totaled and you're in the market for a fixer-upper, you owe it to your safety -- and that of your future passengers -- to thoroughly understand the extent of the damage, to determine if it's within your ability to repair.