Should You Buy a Car With a Salvage Title?


Updated February 2019

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.”

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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.

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Despite a 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.