Should You Buy a Car With a Salvage Title?

Should You Buy a Car With a Salvage Title?

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.

SEE ALSO: What does the smoke from my exhaust mean?

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

  • Dwight

    Hello Mr. Horace, I have a question for you since you deal with salvage vehicles everyday. I came across a 2007 Dodge Nitro R/T 2WD/RWD with 53,000 miles on it. It has a salvage title attached to it. It drove pretty nice. The dealer said it was salvaged because of “hail damage”. They are asking almost $10000.00 for it. At first it seemed like a good deal but Im also thinking I probably could get it a lot cheaper than this. Any advice about the vehicle and what I should invest in a vehicle like this?

  • Like my grandpa always told me….”boy…no man wants to bang a fat chick,fat chicks can squeeze themselves into a tiny skirt,and you’ll pick’em up at the bar…get her nice and smashed to take her home and bang all night,until you see that skirt pop off…you gots yurself a huge fat chick”….he said its exactly like buying salvaged cars…it kind of made sense at the time? Just thought I’d help?

  • Avram Cohen

    Your full of shit, salvaged vehicles suck, a friends car literally split in two on the road!

  • Avram Cohen

    Any salvaged late model vehicle has had damage beyond what you can imagine.. and most of these salvage sellers try to get close to clean title price,, stay away, why would you want your car to split apart on the open highway!??

  • Amanda

    does anyone know how to determine the value of car with “rebuilt” title. I purchased a 2004 acura tl from a used car dealer. the dealer had said the vehicle had never had salvaged title or been in a wreck. the title said transfer but was green. when i got my title back it has a date of total loss on it. i paid blue book on car the dealer is refusing to work out anything with me. i am going to take him to court, but i am trying to determine the cars value now that i know it had been a total loss. any help is greatly appreciated.

  • luvmtains

    From my area the cars I see that are listed as rebuilt usually take about 30% off the private sale Kelly Blue book value. Talk to your state attorney general’s office and/or the state regulator of the dealers. Even if the car was repaired perfectly, when you go to sell it later, you will not be able to get fair value and of course many people and banks will not deal with rebuilt vehicles.

  • luvmtains

    My last four cars have been rebuilt, two of them I rebuilt, drove them to their death as i know did not fix them properly. The other two were both great buys, late model, low mileage vehicles. I would not trust the air bags though and luckily never wrecked them to find out. I am now looking for another vehicle but am suspicious of my new location, the NW where I rarely see a salvage vehicle that does not have low mileage. I find it amazing too that so many say it was barely hit. More state and (interstate) regulation is needed in this area. Though you can find good deals, there are alot of people playing games in how the rebuild and/or disclose rebuilt vehicles.

  • Antwan Richard

    Salvage titles are headaches. I just don’t understand why lots of people are still buying these kind of cars. Advice: never gone out buying a used car without Vinaudit report or you’ll be screwed up.

  • jeff

    Why would you want to go to a body shop if everything on the outside looks fine? Are not all the major potential problems to look for in a salvaged vehicle going to be mechanical?

  • Jess Resz

    Body shops will revise frame damage, which in some cases is more expensive/complicated to repair than any mechanical issue.