8 Tips to Follow Before Buying a Salvage Car


    When a car incurs repair costs exceeding its value, it’s deemed totaled, resulting in a salvage title upon resale, indicating significant history to prospective buyers. Consequently, discounted prices don’t necessarily reflect perfect conditions. Salvage titles can drive prices below their actual worth, making them a consideration for buyers as investments in time, effort, and savings offset sticker price reductions. Assessing whether the investment is worthwhile involves balancing the car’s value against the resources needed for its rehabilitation. To aid in this decision-making process, here are some tips aimed at helping you buy a salvage car and optimizing the balance in favor of a purchase.

    Know Its Exact Damage

    The main reason cars or trucks earn the “salvage” label is usually because of a crash, though some states also list flood and fire damage under salvage. Flood- and fire-damaged vehicles can be especially tricky—parts that seem okay can suddenly fail, and it’s hard to know what exactly needs fixing to make them reliable again. So, it’s important for buyers to be cautious when considering cars or trucks salvaged from fire or water damage. Similarly, there’s both “good” and “bad” crash damage.

    It’s generally safe to buy salvage title cars with body damage or minimal damage to working parts. However, it’s wise to avoid those with bent frames, as even if they look good post-repair, they can lead to ongoing issues and compromise safety, even after fixes.

    What’s in the Purchase Details?

    When considering a salvage car, remember to think about insurance, warranty, financing, registration, claims, and resale.

    • Insurance: Different states and insurers have varying policies, but you’ll likely get at least liability coverage in most states.
    • Warranty: Don’t expect one, but some salvage dealers might offer limited warranties, so it’s worth asking.
    • Financing: Most salvage buyers pay with cash, so don’t rely on getting financing.
    • Registration: Requirements differ by state, with some needing a police inspection or repair shop certification before registration. Check your state’s DMV for specifics.
    • Claims: If your salvage car gets damaged, comprehensive insurance may cover it, but expect reimbursement capped at around 80% of its value.
    • Resale: Salvage titles stick, even after repairs. Don’t anticipate selling your salvage car for a high price.

    Determine if the Price is Fair

    Usually, a fully fixed salvage car is valued at around 60% of a similar car with a clean title. To gauge if it’s a good deal, start with the Kelley Blue Book or NADA value and multiply by 0.6. If the price is lower, it’s likely a good deal.

    But this calculation assumes all damages are fixed, which might not be true. If you’re buying a salvage car that’s not yet repaired or not fully restored, subtract the estimated repair costs from 0.6 times the Kelley Blue Book value to get a more accurate picture.

    Do a Pre-purchase Inspection

    Before you buy a wrecked car, getting it checked by a trusted repair shop, not affiliated with the dealership, is wise. For salvage cars, this step is crucial—never skip it.

    Aside from providing reassurance for already rebuilt salvage cars, an inspection reveals repair costs for those still needing work. Ideally, choose the body shop you’ll use for repairs for the inspection.

    Moreover, a pre-purchase inspection can save money. Dealers don’t always disclose every issue, but an inspection can uncover hidden problems. Use the report to negotiate a lower price with the dealer.

    Repair yourself, or buy already fixed?

    When purchasing a salvage car, you’ll encounter two scenarios: repaired or needing repairs. Opting for an already-fixed car is simpler since the work is done, and the dealer might have handled inspections and paperwork. Buying a fixed salvage car could mean driving it off the lot right away.

    Yet, choosing a wrecked car allows you to oversee repairs. This ensures repairs meet your standards, and lets budget-conscious buyers select which fixes to prioritize. Don’t you mind a minor issue like a non-functional power window? Save money by skipping that repair.

    Once more, buying a salvage car involves some elbow grease—being willing to do your own work can save you money in the long run.

    What’s Theft Recovery Salvage?

    In simple terms, if a stolen car isn’t found within a few weeks—sometimes up to a month—the insurance company compensates the owner and considers it a total loss. If recovered later, it gets a salvage title, even if there’s no damage.

    However, it might still have damage. Dealers usually sell theft recovery salvage cars at higher prices than damaged ones. As with any used car, especially salvage cars, it’s crucial to have a theft recovery vehicle inspected by a trusted repair shop before buying to uncover any hidden issues.

    Get the CARFAX

    Don’t forget the CARFAX report. Even after a thorough inspection by a qualified repair shop, you might not uncover the car’s troubled past. Alongside checking for current damage, it’s crucial to delve into its history.

    Start by running a free Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) check through the National Insurance Crime Bureau. This reveals if the car has a salvage title or if it’s been reported stolen but not recovered. Typically, you’ll find the VIN on the driver’s side interior dash, visible through the windshield. While the VIN might also be stamped in other areas, like the doorframe or engine bay, accessing these spots might not be feasible when purchasing a car.

    Where to Buy?

    You’ve probably heard the stereotype of used car dealers as dishonest sellers trying to pass off bad cars to buyers. While it’s not always true, it’s wise to be extra careful when picking where to buy your salvage car. If you have a trusted local dealer, that’s great—especially if you have a personal connection. But if not, things can be uncertain.

    The key? Thoroughly research both the salvage dealer and the specific car before making any decisions. Start by checking for complaints on the Better Business Bureau website.

    If you’re considering bidding on a salvage car online, don’t rush the evaluation just because it’s remote. Stay rational, take your time, and make sure your head leads over your heart.

    Follow Our Tips Before You Buy a Salvage Title Car

    Ensure a smooth salvage car buying experience by following these essential tips: understand the true value of salvage titles and assess repair costs wisely. Prioritize a thorough pre-purchase inspection and obtain detailed vehicle history reports. Research reputable dealers and sellers, and remain vigilant throughout the process. Your diligence can save you time, money, and headaches down the road.