Should You Buy a Car With a Salvage Title?

Should You Buy a Car With a Salvage Title?
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You’ve finally found your perfect car online: low mileage, perfect price and it looks great. But there’s a catch, it’s sold with a salvage title. Should you still go for it?

A car’s title is a label that describes the condition of the car, and if anything serious has happened to it before. These are usually applied to a car after an accident, or insurance claim. There are four titles available: Irreparable, which means that car is unfit to be back on the road, and only good for parts. There’s also Salvage, which means that the car has been deemed a total loss, but can still be used on the road after passing an inspection. After passing that inspection a car is given a Rebuilt title. Finally there’s the No Title, which means a car is okay to hit the road.


A car can get a Salvage title if it’s involved in a collision or incident which would cost more to repair than the value of the vehicle. These cars are written off, and sent to a scrap yard. From there, the scrap yard can choose to take the car apart and sell the parts individually, or to sell the car in one piece to someone hoping to rebuild it, likely to re-sell it for a profit. With that in mind, is it worth it to buy a Salvage titled car?

“It is worth looking at buying if the price is really low, a very thorough inspection demonstrates that there are no problems and you plan on keeping the vehicle for many years,” says Viraf Baliwalla, from the Automall Network, a service that helps people find the best car for their budget and needs.

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If you’re buying a car that has already been rebuilt, be aware of any shortcuts taken to pass certification.

“I will generally shy away for rebuilt cars,” says Lou Trottier, Technician and Owner of All About Imports. “Not because they are not capable of being good cars again but because the re-builder industry is full of shysters.”



He explains that most rebuilt cars are like Frankenstein, cobbled together from two different cars. He has rarely seen a solid rebuilt car, and sellers often downplay the severity of the condition the car was in before the rebuild.

“Yes, there are ‘good guys’ out there making a respectable living doing this, but they are rare,” he says.

“I have completed a couple of pre-purchase inspections of rebuilt cars with the re-builder present and brought him and the potential customer out to the car,” Trottier says. “I then show the customer the poor repairs.” This ended making the rebuilder very defensive, and made the situation uncomfortable and even hostile.

SEE ALSO: Tips for Buying a High Mileage Used Car

Despite the good deal, sellers have trouble selling salvage or rebuilt titled cars. There’s just too much that can go wrong for people to commit financially. Resale of them will be just as difficult, as prospective buyers quiz you about what went wrong with your car.

Trottier urges extreme caution when it comes to dealing with salvage titled, or rebuilt vehicles, citing safety and financial concerns when it comes to the quality of the vehicle.


15-1973-Datsun-240Z-Down-On-The-Junkyard-Picture-courtesy-of-Murilee-MartinHowever, there are some ways a Salvage titled car can be useful.

“If you are looking at a vehicle for extra parts, then a salvage title is not a problem,” says Baliwalla. “Salvage and Irreparable titled vehicles are great sources for parts.”

This makes Salvage titled vehicles an excellent purchase for those looking to revive, or extend the life of another car, should you have a place for the donor vehicle. Furthermore, there can be some troubles insuring a salvage/rebuilt titled cars. Most insurance companies won’t offer comprehensive coverage on such a car, meaning any repairs after an accident would come out of pocket.

On the other-hand, some cars are written off after being stolen, or having items stolen from them. These cars, called theft-recoveries, can be a huge steal, budget-wise, since the car was likely not involved in a huge crash or problem.

However, if you’re planning on buying one to drive right away, you might be disappointed to find the car still needing work. “If you are going to buy such a car, there better be a darn good reason,” Baliwalla says. While Salvage titled vehicles might look good and have a nice low price-tag, they might end up being more trouble than they’re worth. As the saying goes, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

  • deepen03

    have bought several salvage cars in our family. 5-6 brand new flood salvage cars, we got a 2007 Acura TL, fully loaded, theft recovered salvage perfect condition for 17K with 17k miles back in 2010, and got a 2010 Nissan Altima SL fully loaded for 17K with ZERO miles. There are local dealers in NJ that sell really good salvage cars. Route34 Auto and Economy Auto for example in my area. Trusty dealers and will make sure there are no issues in the cars. Buying a luxury car for a fraction of the cost of retail with fully loaded specs is awesome..

  • markus

    Unless it isn’t. Because depending on where you live, you might not be able to get insurance. It’s also a GIANT risk. I can’t believe you bought a flood car. You’re lucky they haven’t wound up costing you an arm an a leg.

  • deepen03

    it was 100pct perfect condition.. we only get the good flood cars, low water on floor, all electronics working and no salt water.

  • james

    I bought a truck from Got Truck and it was great. Could not afford a 2007 F250 but due to title only paid a fraction of retail. It was rebuilt and I saved a lot of money, you do have to be careful on WHO you buy from because like you said, not all rebuilders are the same quality or integrity. This was my first salvage and would buy another.

  • mvward7156

    Salvage car is ok if you paid $2,000 or less and if it gets in a wreck so what small investment. Buy a salvage Prius for $15,000 to $20,000 you have to be crazy, If you get in a wreck that’s a lot money gone. You cannot insured a salvage, wait a minute you can but it will cost you, you can insured a salvage car up to $3,500 of damage, that’s not very much. If a Prius owner tells you it’s been in a little accident and now it’s a salvage that’s a bunch of bull. People that are selling these salvage cars are hitting the young people and this is just my opinion most of these cars have water damage the Russians are buying them and making the cars look good buying salvage cars real cheap.

  • schmate

    I never had a bit of trouble getting insurance or financing. Mine was a theft recovery (when brand-new, and found in a warehouse with no damage). Paid $18,000 for a perfect 2003 Ford Thunderbird convertible with a hard top, lots of extras, and 14,000 miles.

    Do your homework, run the Carfax, call your insurance company in advance, and take it right to a body shop when you test drive. Mine was a sweet deal and yours could be too.

  • horace

    People please wake up . I sell rebuilt title cars every day . And it is a way better deal than buying a new car . I find cars that normally cost 30, 000 or more before being in a accident . I buy them for 3000-5000 dollars . Fix them and they are worth over 20, 000 dollars . Insurance companies dont want to pay the high fees from the body shops and title the cars as salvage to get rid of them . I get them and fix them for pennies of the body shop prices and sell them at a lesserb cost to a buyer . I would never ever buy a flood car or a car with frame damage . Trust me its better than paying 30, 000 for the car and 10, 000 more for intrest fees . Only to have the cars be worth 3 percent of value after you finish paying five years later .

  • jonathan3579

    Where do you find the cars to buy? I’ve been looking and haven’t had much luck. I found a car on eBay that has a rebuilt title but it’s because of flooding from fresh water but supposedly everything is fine.

  • lexluther

    a guy on ebay is selling a 2012 lambo aventador with only 300 miles on it and is asking 300K for it BUT it has a salvage title. i googled the vin# and saw the pics of the damage, he claims it was only 19k in damage but why would the insurance company total it out for just 19k in damage. Salvage cars are great as long as you understand you will NEVER get back what you paid for it if you ever decide to sell it

  • WelcomeToReality

    So what’s the catch? Oh… financing is rarely an option. And insurance? Yep. Good luck finding an insurance company that will provide full coverage.

  • Donald

    I ran an auto check report that showed my “rebuilt” car had no accidents, no flooding and no frame damage. Only problems with the title and odometer readings. How can I find out exactly WHY the car has a rebuilt title? BTW- the car has started and ran perfect since I purchased it almost 2.5 years ago.

  • beeb

    I have been selling repaired cars since 1981 all my customers are return customers.Ive been in the collision business since 1971 and when I repair a car its done right so if you buy a salvage car from a professional you can save a lot of money and buy a good car but you lose any factory warranty and financing can be a problem so you have to weigh out you savings on the car with the draw backs I just mentioned.The problem is there is a lot of repair work done by unprofessional people and then you have a problem most likley

  • jose leon

    I bough a flooded vehicle around 8month ago and everything works perfect.2004 kia amanti it has 72000 miles and very cheap on gas..however im thing to buy a new car and would like to sell for $3500 obo..if any interested please let me know… have lots of pictures available …thanks…jleon