If Your Airbags Deploy Is the Car Considered Totaled?

Last Updated on September 24, 2021

Just because your vehicle’s airbags deploy upon impact does not mean your vehicle is totaled. Each state has its own unique requirements and thresholds for determining if a damaged vehicle is totaled. In general, if the damage to a vehicle equates to 70-75% of its actual cash value, it is totaled and should be transported to a junkyard. However, Florida drivers must have 80% damage to their vehicle before it can be labeled a total loss. The actual cash value of the vehicle compared to the cost of the damage is ultimately determined by the insurance company’s complex computer software.

If Your Airbags Deploy Is the Car Considered Totaled?

Why People Think the Deployment of Airbags Means the Vehicle is Totaled

The average person assumes if the airbags on their vehicle are deployed, there is a good chance the vehicle is considered totaled. However, this is not always the case. Most people believe this common misconception about airbags as a particularly high percentage of automobiles are totaled after an airbag is deployed. Plenty of drivers have physical damage coverage on their aging vehicle that has a high level of depreciation.

Airbags are expensive, running up to the $1,000 range for a replacement. Therefore, when an airbag is deployed on an older vehicle model, the cost of the damage to the vehicle’s body plus the cost of the airbag often add up to quite the hefty figure. There is a chance the damage will be bad enough that the vehicle is considered total. However just because the airbags deploy does not guarantee the vehicle will qualify as totaled.

Let’s take a look at an example of an auto accident to elaborate on the potential for a deployed airbag to render the vehicle totaled or still repairable and possibly even operational. Consider an automobile owner with a 10-year old sedan that has comprehensive coverage. The vehicle driver crosses paths with a deer while driving on the highway, resulting in a nasty collision. The airbag subsequently deploys. The total cost of replacing the airbag and paying for the physical damage to the front end of the vehicle is more than the vehicle’s total actual cash value. The insurance provider responds by labeling the sedan as totaled as it is simply not worth the cost of the repairs. However, if the vehicle were fairly new, it might be possible to repair it. Repair efforts after a significant crash are particularly sensible if the vehicle is expensive.

Totaled Vehicles by the Numbers

Insurance companies use the Total Loss Formula to determine if a vehicle involved in an accident is actually totaled. Though not every single auto insurer uses this formula, the majority relies upon it. The Total Loss Formula is as follows: the cost of repairing the vehicle + the vehicle’s salvage value compared to the vehicle’s actual cash value.  However, different auto insurance companies and state insurance commissions rely on this formula in their own unique ways. In certain states, if the cost of repairing the vehicle added to the salvage value adds up to 50% of the vehicle’s actual cash value, it qualifies as totaled.  However, this percentage differs with each state.

The Issue of Repair Cost

The cost of vehicle repairs differs from one auto repair shop to the next. Furthermore, the quality of repairs also differs from each auto repair shop. If the shop cannot perform solid repairs, give your business to another auto specialist. Do not take the cheap route on repairs as the quality of your vehicle repair is of the utmost importance. Give your business to an experienced auto repair technician who can show examples of his or her prior repair work. The larger auto repair shops tend to have price advantages on replacement parts as they are able to buy such parts in bulk while smaller shops do not order parts nearly as frequently.

There also might be an option to use an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) part as opposed to an after-market part. The type and quality of the part you use have the potential to significantly impact price as well as the quality of the repair. Shop around for different repair options such as alternative paint application, dent repair, etc. and you just might save a bundle of money.

How to Proceed After a Crash in Which Airbags Deploy

If you are involved in an auto accident in which the airbags deploy, do not assume your vehicle will be totaled and you will have to start over again from square one. Contact emergency medical personnel if necessary. Reach out to the police to file an accident report. Contact your insurance company to report the accident in a timely manner. If the injury is not serious, go ahead and take some pictures/video of the crash site. Get statements from witnesses.

Report to the parties as detailed above and the post-accident period will not be as difficult as you imagine. In fact, you might even be able to have your vehicle repaired even though the airbags are deployed. However, if it is determined your vehicle is totaled, do not despair. It is only a matter of time before you get a new vehicle and are back on the road.

James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for InsurancePanda.com and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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