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What to watch for when looking at a used car with salvage title

Hi again all. Thanks for the super quick answers to my last question :slight_smile:

Some of the used cars that I am looking at say they have a salvage title. I know that means that car was in an accident and was ‘totaled’ by the insurance company. When I ask the seller about it, they say the car is alright. I ask if it drives straight and if the frame is alright. Is there anything else I should be asking or checking for ? Is it reasonable to consider salvage titles at all or is it just a bad idea to buy one (keeping in mind that I am on a tight budget).

Pay to have a good mechanic check it out. Asking the owner is meaningless, because they will always say it is OK.

Personally, even if I intend to run this vehicle into the ground and never re-sell it, I would pass. Too many possible issues, even for experienced folks. New owners for these type vehicles best be well-qualified mechanics.

Others will argue, but I would not by a vehicle with a salvage title under any circumstances. It’s just too risky, and the resale value of such a car is very near zero.

Insurance companies don’t just “total” vehicles for the fun of it. They are very good at knowing how badly a vehicle has been damaged, whether by crash, flood, fire, whatever.

If the vehicle has been totaled, you don’t want it, no matter how nice it looks.

I disagree. I bought my Diamanti on salvage title for a bargain and it has been a great vehicle. 100K miles have passed with no repair issues I wouldn’t have expected from any other car regardless of title. Drive the car and look for oddities. Do the panels fit correctly, does the car drive straight, check for rattles, look for dirt and signs of water damage. I would shy away from a water damaged vehicle as they have can have electronic issues. Look closely and you can tell if it’s a quality rebuild or a slap together. You should expect to be able to buy the vehicle for close to wholesale value.

I would ask where the exit is, pass on these cars.

A salvage title rebuild is by definition “slapped together”. If a car has been totaled, that means that the insurance company has determined that in order to fix it RIGHT, it’ll cost more than the car. So if you’re looking at a rebuild from a salvage title, that means that someone managed to fix it for cheaper and to do so almost by definition means cutting corners. Especially when you consider that since you can only sell a salvage vehicle for a deep discount, the rebuilder has to do the rebuild for less than even the price ceiling set by the insurance company.

Now, I think the age of the vehicle when it was issued the salvage title makes a huge difference. When a car gets older, the value drops so much eventually that they get totaled for relatively minor body damage. Obviously cutting corners when you’re just switching out a fender or two and doing some minor paint work is not going to result in serious long-term issues or safety problems like some of the extreme rebuilds they do on close to new cars that are catastrophically totaled.

So, to the OP, what year, make and model of car are you looking at?

You don’t want to get into an accident and find out that someone stuffed packing peanuts into the airbag compartment.

I’d stay away.

What to watch for when looking at a used car with salvage title
Watch For A Salvage Title! Ask Yourself These Questions …

-Why do cars that were totalled and then “repaired” need a special title?

-Why are these cars worth so little, sometimes having lost half their value.

-Do I know enough about body repair and mechanical work to really know what I’m doing?

A salvage title is Mother Nature’s way (and the state)of saying “Watch yourself, here!” You say, … “(keeping in mind that I am on a tight budget).” Do you eat spoiled food when times are tough? It could be alright or it could make you quite ill.

I think it would make more sense doing something about the tight budget. Get a second source of income or seek better employment or delay your purchase. You could find yourself jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Buying cars that are just “used” can be challenging enough.

Here in California, we see a LOT of salvage title vehicles. I presume that most of them are rebuilt in Mexico where they take two or three wrecks, make one car, and paint it.

I know folks who buy them, but they pay less than half of blue book, and they plan on having a few problems in the first year, such as leaks, electrical glitches, and so forth.

Be prepared to buy it for cash, as no bank will loan money secured by a salvage title.

The air bag caution is a valid one. Air bags are expensive and may not be intact on salvage title cars.

You often see private sellers who hope that someone will give them blue book for their salvage title car. Good luck to them.

A salvage title essentially kills a car’s value. Figure on about half, maybe a bit over, and don’t give anywhere near book value on one.
If it’s a salvage because of flooding then I would avoid it at all costs.

A salvage car is not always a bad deal. It depends on why it was declared a total or how bad it was hit.
In OK if a vehicle sustains damage that costs 60% of the book value to repair they usually total it out. A good fender bender and a few air bags could do that much.

I’ve known a number of people who owned salvage cars with few problems and one of my old ones went about 180k miles on a salvage title with no problems.

A lot depends on a thorough checkout and the ones that I would be very nervous about would be something like a 2 year old vehicle that has been declared a total.
One can assume if a fairly new vehicle has been tagged with this then the damage was probably very severe. JMHO anyway and hope it helps.

This Is Good Information

I have personally repaired 3 of my cars that fit what you describe. Two were hit in the rear and one in a rear door. They were totalled by my insurance company because of their age and value. I bought the “salvage” from the insurance company by their deducting it from my settlement check.

I repaired them and kept them solely because nothing “mechanical” was damaged. They drove just fine immediately following the collision and I knew the car. I did this because it involved only body damage and I did some/all of the repair (on one car it was all bolt on and tap on work) or had a professional do repairs. The car that was hit in the door got a like new salvage yard door for $90 that I installed and a body man fixed the 1/4 panel. The car hit in the rear needed rear bumper brackets, used front bumper and a smack on the tail panel from inside the trunk. These cars all passed my insurance agents inspection and had collision coverage reinstated.

Had these cars suffered “mechanical” or frame rail damage (safety issue) the salvage would have belonged to my insurance company.

That’s how I look at repairing totals.