Salvage title cars offer many possibilities for anyone who has the knowledge to fix whatever might be wrong with the vehicle or for anyone who needs some low-cost parts for another vehicle of the same type that needs substantial repair or maintenance. While salvage titles may save you a lot of money on your next vehicle, they may also be a huge headache for you if you don't know what you're getting into. Before deciding on a salvage purchase, make sure you're familiar with what the term means, and know all of the applicable rules in your state.
What is a salvage title?
Most states issue a salvage title when a vehicle has sustained substantial damage that amounts to a certain portion of its undamaged retail value. The exact amount that constitutes a salvage car may vary from about 50 percent to 95 percent of its value, depending on the state. Some areas place the salvage stamp on a vehicle based on insurance assessments, giving the designation for anything that the insurance company calls a total loss. In some cases, this might mean a perfectly-functioning vehicle, but its age or high miles might set it within the salvage range for cosmetic repair costs. In states where vehicles must pass emissions tests, many vehicles may be considered salvage due to a failure to pass, but they can be shipped to and driven in other states where higher-emission operation is legal.
Salvage versus scrap titles
While most salvage title cars can be rebuilt and returned to active use, this is not the case with scrap titles. Don't get conned into buying a scrap vehicle (one that has damage amounting to more than 90 to 95 percent of the previous value) with promises of being able to rebuild it. Various methods may allow a clean or otherwise street-legal title to be put on a salvage car, but in most cases you cannot return a scrap title vehicle to active use.
Benefits of salvage title cars
In some cases, salvage title cars may not have anything that impedes their normal operation or may only need a relatively small amount of work done before you can have a sound, drivable vehicle. For instance, a vehicle may book at $4,000 dollars, but you're able to buy it for $800 dollars with the salvage title. Maybe you don't care about cosmetic damage, and mechanical issues can be repaired for $500 dollars-or less, if you happen to be able to get it fixed at wholesale repair prices or do it yourself. This will give you an excellent commuter or student vehicle for considerably less than you might pay for that same car.
Precautions and expectations when buying salvage title cars
Before buying a salvage title car, consider the uses for which you're purchasing it. Parts vehicles need not run, but specific parts will still have to be in place and viable in order for the purchase to make sense for you. If you're buying a salvage title car in hopes of driving it, make sure you have someone with the mechanical expertise to accurately assess any damage to the car. A vehicle that runs well and sounds OK may still have faults in the brakes, transmission or other such systems. Without knowing how to run a car through its paces, you may not detect these issues until after the purchase-or worse, until they're really needed and you realize they're not in working order.
Expect that the salvage title car will need at least some mechanical work, and that it will need an official inspection before it can have a rebuilt or clean title that will allow for legal operation on established roads.
Never assume that a seller is telling you the truth about a vehicle's history and repair needs. Always rely on a knowledgeable, neutral third party to aid in your purchase decisions.