If you’re in the business of restoring salvage cars to rebuilt status and then selling them as low-cost alternatives to customer who need them, or even if you’re just a hobbyist who loves getting their hands dirty over nights and weekends by restoring a salvage car to its days of former glory, the best way to find cars of this type to buy is through an auction site. Here’s what you need to know about buying these salvage vehicles from auctions quickly and easily without a problem.
Understanding U.S. Salvage Car Auctions
Salvage cars are primarily available through used car auctions. The companies that put these cars up on the block at these auctions are almost exclusively insurance companies, as insurers will routinely offer to buy totaled vehicles off their owners (by setting an appointment) in exchange for not having to pay for having them rebuilt.
This usually occurs when it costs more to rebuild the vehicle than it does to just pay off the owner for the value of the car in total (hence the term “totaled”). As a result, insurers often have a high volume of cars that they can’t get rid of fast enough.
This makes finding salvage cars at auction incredibly easy, and since insurers are more interested in getting rid of these cars than turning any kind of profit, you can get salvage cars for a very low price.
The only drawback is that you’re unlikely to learn what happened to each car to total it, except when the damage is evident.
It’s Important to Know How Much Work Restoring a Salvage Car Will Be
Not every salvage car is created equal. A car can be totaled out by an insurer for a number of reasons, not just physical damage. For instance, cars that were stolen and then recovered weeks later with no sustained damage are usually written off in the interim, which means that even if the car is in pristine condition it’s still going to be classified as salvage.
Such a recovered-theft salvage vehicle is often treated like the Holy Grail of salvage cars at auctions, as there’s usually little to no additional cash outlay required by a buyer to get the car certified as rebuilt and then re-sold in a flash.
Of course, the reverse is true as well. Cars caught in environmental damage like floods are often the worst investments when it comes to rebuilding and/or reselling, as a flood-damaged car might never come back properly, no matter how much time and money you sink into it. Unless you replace every single electrical and electronic component, including all the wiring, you could be plagued with all manner of malfunctions months or even years after the car has been dried out.
Likewise, a vehicle that suffered little more than body damage in an accident but has a warped or cracked frame might be impossible to repair properly, making it a liability in the future and resulting in a poor return on investment if you’re interested in re-selling the salvage vehicles you restore.
Salvage Car Auctions: In Person or Online?
Many used car auctions that carry salvage cars are more than just in-person events held in “real world” venues. In fact, a large proportion of used car auctions is accessible online. In many cases, this is quite an advantage if you’re very busy and can’t take time off from work to visit a used car auction in person. You don’t have to pass on any great deals.
At the same time, using an online car auction site instead of visiting an auction directly means that you’re unable to visually inspect the cars before deciding if you’re going to bid on them or not, and this can result in purchasing a salvage vehicle that might be more trouble than it’s worth to restore.
There’s also the added wrinkle of getting your salvage car off the auction lot. Since it’s illegal to drive a salvage vehicle – even one that’s mechanically sound – you’ll need to have it loaded onto a flatbed or similar transport to get it off-site. If you have your own trailer, you can bring it to a used car auction and transport a car you win personally.
If you’re shopping for cars online, you’ll have to pay the auction venue itself to provide transportation to your home or place of business. While this is an added expense, with the incredibly low price of most salvage cars it’s barely an issue, though it is still one worth mentioning.