total loss

Risk and value of total loss in popular used cars

14 February 2022

According to autoDNA, a leading provider of vehicle history reports for second-hand cars from Europe, some popular models tend to have a relatively high risk of a total loss incident. 

AutoDNA vast database compromises records of over half a billion registered vehicles both in Europe and in the US. These entries include maintenance, photographs, incidents, and repair. Occasionally a “total loss” is recorded in the history of a given vehicle. How likely is this to happen when checking a popular model? We’ve checked ten cars, which are sought after on the market, and calculated the risk of a total loss when verifying their records. 



Total what? On the definition of “total loss”

“Total loss” also known as a “write-off” is a term used in insurance and denotes a vehicle in which the estimated cost of repairs exceeds the value of the car. This can mean a car that has incurred substantial damage due to e.g. fire or a massive crash, which renders the vehicle in a condition beyond economically justified repair. It can sometimes mean a car that was stolen and later recovered but the interior and exterior have been salvaged for parts. 

A total loss is usually no minor scratch, but it’s not something that should automatically delete a car from our search efforts and a potential shortlist for vehicles to buy. Modern cars are made up of expensive parts, including LED headlights, several airbags and lots of interconnected electronic parts. Alas, it does not take much damage to have a car labeled as economically irreparable. Depending on the country of origin and insurance type it can take just over 70% of the value of the car, to pronounce a “total loss”. This calculation includes both the cost of parts and the labor cost, which tends to be higher in Western European countries. 

It is precisely for that reason that damaged cars tend to migrate Eastwards inside the EU. Lower costs of manual labor mean that damaged vehicles in France are economically viable for repair e.g. in Poland, which on average imports around 1 million cars annually both from the EU and other countries, including the UK and US. Some of them might be rebuilt after a total loss. A vast internal market means that European cars often can be used in at least two countries over their lifespan. 



Which cars tend to be riskier?

Among the most popular models on the second-hand car market are Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Passat and Golf, and Golf’s Czech Republic made sibling Skoda Octavia. Some of these cars are more likely to return a total loss than others. Audi A4 has got the worst record when it comes to the chance of returning a total loss when checked in the AutoDNA database with nearly 17% of all A4 vehicle history reports searched in 2021. The average value of total loss for Audi A4 was 8500 Euro. Next in line is the BMW 3 Series, which had a 15% chance of total loss with an average value of 9200 Euro. Mercedes E Class has the highest value with 11.8K Euro and a slightly lower probability of over 12%. Other models like Skoda Octavia and VW Golf hit the 11% mark, but their popular market competitors like Ford Focus and slightly bigger and more expensive VW Passat have recorded over 9% of the total loss chance. On the other side of the table are Japanese cars. Honda Civic is only near the 5% threshold. Toyota Corolla had a relatively high number of verified VIN numbers (over 13K) but returned a meager 0,68% of total loss cases. Does this mean only older drivers tend to own Corollas, which is reflected in the possibility of a serious accident? To some extent, this might be the case. But it could also stem from Toyota’s high reliability – if you own a Corolla you can drive it till the body falls apart. One needs to bear in mind that the data compiled is from actual VIN number checks, so a lot of Corollas with issues could still be on the roads, waiting to discover dark secrets through VIN checking, when they finally hit the market. 


Should you avoid cars with total loss? 

Total loss is a piece of important information for a prospective buyer of a used car. It does not necessarily mean that we are dealing with a lemon car, which has a condition that will render it impossible for further trading once we buy it. If a car has been rebuilt according to the industry standards with original parts then not only the value of total loss will be high but also the car could be in a much better shape than many other similar available on the market. Let’s say a car scores a hit in the front and with headlights and other parts replaced as new. Ironically it’s now worth more but it’s not reflected in its price, nor it’s label as a “total loss” rebuilt car. For this reason, the right car with total loss, which again can happen easily with advanced modern vehicles, could be a bargain.


It is good to know

autoDNA is the leading provider of services of checking vehicle history online. Based on your VIN number, with autoDNA you can verify vehicle history before making a purchase. In many cases, checking your VIN may prevent you from incurring unwanted additional costs associated with purchasing a vehicle with an unknown or salvage past.




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Risk and value of total loss in popular used cars
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Risk and value of total loss in popular used cars
According to AutoDNA, some popular models tend to have a relatively high risk of a total loss incident. Check what these models are.
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