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Related topics: insurance, auto insurance, car insurance, accident, road safety

Crashed your car? Bummer. Even worse is getting a call from your auto insurance company saying it's a total loss and should go to the junkyard.

Your attachment to your vehicle may be sentimental. In some cases, your bond may be financial: You may not be able to replace the totaled car with the money your insurance company is willing to pay.

Typically, cars are totaled when damage exceeds 65% or 70% of the vehicle's market value. Rick Ward, the director of auto claims for MetLife Auto and Home, says the standard for deciding when a car is a total loss varies by company and may be set by state regulators. You can find out the threshold by contacting your insurance agent.

Working with your auto insurance company

Car insurance companies find that many older cars are simply not worth repairing.

"We determine the value of your car through market research," explains Ward. "There are three software providers that provide vehicle valuations, Blue Book averages and what cars are selling for in your area through dealer networks." But this software isn't available to consumers.

According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, the average cost for collision repair in 2009 was $4,245. If you think your totaled car is valuable enough to justify a repair, you can contest your insurance company's decision to declare it a total loss, but be prepared to provide evidence that the car is worth the effort.

If you can demonstrate good maintenance and mechanical improvements, you may be able to win your totaled car a reprieve. Its age and mileage will be key factors.

Keeping a vehicle your insurer has totaled

If you decide to accept the insurance company's decision to total your car but you still want to keep it, your insurer will pay you the cash value of the vehicle, minus any deductible that is due and the amount your car could have been sold for at a salvage yard. It then will be up to you to arrange to make repairs.

"They will cut you a check," says Ward, and then you're on your own.

Mechanical integrity

Dan Young, senior vice president of insurance relations for the Carstar auto body repair group, says safety should be your primary concern when keeping a totaled car. "If there is a way for you to find someone to repair the car or make it safely drivable, that is great," he says.

If damage to the totaled vehicle is mostly cosmetic, you may be able to put it back into service for a modest cost. However, if fixing the car means reaching deep into your pockets, you may be better off letting it go.