What is Salvage title? Buyer Tips

Can I Buy a Flooded Vehicle and Then Fix it to Obtain a Title in South Carolina?

By Mike Richards Updated: 06/23/2022 Posted: 04/10/2017


South Carolina is home to some of the prettiest landscapes in the nation, from lush forests and verdant hills to stormy seas and calm waterfronts. All of this natural beauty comes at a price: South Carolina is vulnerable to storms, including hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, and hail downpours. This means the South Carolina used car market is flooded with cars that have a flooding history. These cars pose several problems to owners, sellers, and insurers, which means you must know what you’re getting into before you buy and attempt to sell a flooded vehicle in South Carolina.


Why Flooded Vehicles are a Problem

A little water never hurt anyone, right? Hardly. Flooded cars pose huge risks. The primary issue with flooding is that:

It is difficult to determine the extent of damage based on appearance alone.

Some flooded vehicles look fine but have severely damaged engines that make them unsafe to drive.

Because it’s fairly easy to conceal superficial flooding damage, some unscrupulous sellers attempt to sell flooded vehicles as regular used cars.

Research any car you purchase.

Even if it’s not marked as a flood or salvage vehicle.

When you purchase a car with a flooding history, you need to know that, even if it looks fine, it may have significant damage that must be repaired.


What You Need to Know About Flooded Car Regulations in South Carolina

South Carolina allows owners to register cars damaged by water under the Salvage Water heading. These titles clearly denote a car that has been damaged by water, encouraging buyers to take appropriate precautions. However, unlike some states, South Carolina does not let owners register just any damaged vehicle. Instead, owners must go through an exhaustive process to rebuild the car. This includes fixing the most significant damage, and providing details about the repairs performed on the car. This provides some assurances to buyers, so cars registered in South Carolina under a Salvage Water title may actually be of a higher quality than those registered in other states.

If a car is flooded again after it is registered as a salvaged title, it will need to again go through the salvage title process.


Registering a  Flooded Car From Another State in South Carolina

Many unscrupulous car dealers attempt to obscure a car’s status as a flooded vehicle by driving it to another state and registering it there. South Carolina makes this virtually impossible with strict regulations.

Flooded cars must be rebuilt in their home states before they can be registered with a salvage/water title in South Carolina. It is more difficult to hide a car’s history as a once-flooded vehicle.

This won’t stop you from driving a flooded car from South Carolina into another state and registering it there. This practice, known as title washing, is illegal. Not only can it land you in jail. It can also get you sued if you later sell the car and the driver is injured or otherwise suffers a loss due to the car’s status as a flooded car. Title washing might seem like a good idea, but it’s not worth the risk.


Can I Rebuild a Flooded vehicle in South Carolina?

Once a car in South Carolina is registered as a salvage vehicle, you won’t be able to fully rebuild it. The salvage rebuilding process is so rigorous that there’s really no need to further rebuild the title.

Getting a salvage title on a flooded South Carolina car is evidence that the car has been partially restored. If, however, you wish to further rebuild the car, there’s nothing to stop you. Just know that you won’t be able to register it in South Carolina with a fully restored title.  


Tips for Buying and Selling Flooded Vehicles in South Carolina

Flooded cars, even those with salvage titles, typically sell for significantly below market value. A fully rebuilt flood car should fetch about 5% the market value of a similar, non-flooded vehicle. That makes these cars a tempting option for a dealer who’d like to purchase them, rebuild them, then turn them around to make a quick buck. For buyers with little cash, a flooded car may also be a tempting option.

The following tips can help you make intelligent decisions regarding the buying and selling of salvage and flood title cars:

  • Salvage cars are typically cash sales only since lenders are unlikely to take the gamble of financing them. Only purchase one if you can afford to pay in cash—not on a credit card or loan.
  • Ask for a vehicle history report, since this is the only reliable source of information on the car.
  • Know exactly how much work the car needs, and how much it will cost. Consider establishing a relationship with a mechanic you trust.
  • Choose the right car. Rare, high-value, and collector’s cars are far more likely to fetch competitive prices than low-value or easy to get cars.
  • Fix cosmetic damage even if it’s not necessary to get a title. Cosmetic damage turns most buyers off.
  • Get involved in your local dealer community so you can get tips and support.
  • Seek a dealer’s license so that you can go to dealer auctions, which typically offer the best cars and the most steeply discounted prices.