Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips and Reviews

Red, blue, silver, and yellow cars on shelves in a salvage yard

Don’t Skip Out on a Used Car with a Salvage Title

When shopping for used cars, there are many things that you want to look out for, lest you end up getting screwed over by the dealership. While that doesn’t always happen, it’s sadly still a reality that you need to worry about. One thing that you might notice are the various labels that vehicles are given on their title. If you see a vehicle labeled as “salvage,” your first instinct is to undoubtedly avoid it, right? While it’s good that you’re paying attention to detail when used car buying — a skill that will save you loads of money and headaches — a salvage-title vehicle could potentially be a good buy.

Surprising, right?

What a Salvage-Title Means

In order to fully understand what I’m talking about, it’s important to first learn what a salvage-title is. A salvage-title is first and foremost, to you, potentially a red flag. Therefore, you were right to trust your gut. But, it’s definition goes much further than that.

When a vehicle has been in an accident and the total damage exceeds a certain percentage — between 75-90 percent — of the value of the car, the insurance company will decide that the vehicle is not economically feasible to repair, declaring it a “total loss,” and slap a “salvage certificate” on it. This signals that the car is unable to be sold, driven, or registered in its current condition.

So, the vehicle is then sold by the insurance company to a repair facility or parts dismantler, which will decide the fate of the vehicle. If it’s repaired, most states will require that it passes a basic safety inspection before a new title is issued. If it does pass and has a title re-issued, it will be called a salvage-title vehicle so that potential buyers know that it’s been severely damaged and repaired beforehand.

It’s not always a collision that causes a vehicle to have a salvage-title, however. It could also be flood damage, hail damage, theft recovery, vandalism, or even a non-operable vehicle. As bad as that sounds, hear me out. If you do find a vehicle with a salvage-title, it could be worth purchasing, or not worth purchasing. There is no definitive answer regarding whether you should buy a salvage-title vehicle since it’s all conditional.

When a Salvage-Title Vehicle Could be a Good Buy

A salvage-title vehicle could potentially be a good buy. The vehicle has been repaired, after all, so it’s right as rain as far as the dealership and motor vehicle agency is concerned. It would be the perfect vehicle for someone looking for a quick fix in a automotive emergency, or even if you’re looking for a long-term used vehicle.

How can you tell if it’s worth the purchase? Simple! Take it to a trusted independent mechanic and be up front that it’s a salvage-title vehicle, selling at a price that’s too good to pass up. The mechanic will inspect it for you, and tell you if it’s worth buying.

Concluding thoughts: Yes, you can have a third-party inspect the vehicle for you. Don’t listen to a dealership that says it’s not allowed. Also, I’d avoid a vehicle if it’s had flood damage. That’s just not worth it. So, make sure you identify the history of the vehicle first and get it inspected. That way, you can be thorough with your prospective purchase.