What is Salvage title? How to articles Buyer Tips

How To Buy a Salvage Car for Personal Use?

By Mike Richards Updated: 08/09/2022 Posted: 10/22/2015

Buying a used car can sometimes be a gamble. However, given the amount of information at their disposal thanks to information technology, buyers can now buy a car with full disclosure of the vehicle’s history, as well as a wealth of consumer ratings.

Despite all this, there is still information that simply cannot be known without physically checking the car. Even with a proper amount of due diligence, unknown problems can be lurking under the surface. Despite this risk, we continue to buy cars and hope our best efforts as consumers reward us with a reliable car at a fair price.


Buying Salvage Cars

The same rules that apply to buying a used car apply to salvage vehicles, but with a slight difference. In the case of a salvaged vehicle, buyers should conduct due diligence, inspect the car’s mechanicals and cosmetics just as if they were making a purchase from a driveway or a used car lot.

The only difference is salvage buyers need to focus primarily on the obvious problems and whether they can be repaired and then move on to hidden problems that may surface in the future.

When purchasing a salvage vehicle, there are two main considerations a purchaser needs to understand. The first involves getting the vehicle to a condition whereby it can be registered and insured.  The second (of particular concern for resellers) involves restoring the vehicle to a marketable condition.


How To Make Your Decision

Salvage vehicles may have unique mechanical and cosmetic issues that require special attention from a buyer. These concerns can run the gamut from mechanical matters relating to the powertrain, drivetrain, damage to the vehicle’s frame due to a collision, water damage to electronic components, and a range of cosmetic issues which can impact a vehicle’s marketability.

The key to a successful purchase, therefore, is making yourself aware of all problems a vehicle has and figuring out how to fix them. The following list provides some top tips for buying a salvage vehicle and getting it back on the road or back in the marketplace.

1. Obtain an Inspection.

Prior to purchasing a salvage vehicle, have the vehicle inspected. An inspection should cover the vehicle’s physical attributes such as the mechanicals, the chassis and electronics. It should also review the vehicle history. Some companies offer nationwide vehicle inspections such as the Auto Appraisal Group and the Lemon Squad. There are also independent appraisers who can be found locally that provide similar services.


2. Ask for the Original Repair Estimate and Final Repair Invoice.

If a vehicle sustained severe damage and was subsequently repaired, there is no guarantee that the repairs were done properly. The best way to determine the extent of prior damage and subsequent repairs is to look at the initial repair estimate and the final repair invoice. This estimate provides information on which parts had a replacement. The quality of parts used and at least some indication of whether the work was properly. One particular risk in this area to be cautious about involves the use of cheap aftermarket or used parts for repairs. These parts often are not fit for purpose and can lead to problems in the future, as they fail at a higher rate than OEM parts.


3. Avoid HighRisk Cars.

Experienced buyers of salvage vehicles will often state that there are certain vehicles that should be avoided even if they have been repaired. These vehicles have had repairs, but may have a high risk of other hidden problems or may not be marketable. Those in the salvage buying industry often warn that vehicles with extensive front end damage and vehicles with deployed air bags can be problematic due to the cost of repair and the likelihood that more serious damage may be lurking under surface.


4. Avoid Flood Cars.

Of all the salvage vehicles a buyer will encounter flood cars present the highest risk. Water damage to a vehicle can wreak havoc on a vehicle’s cosmetics and can do serious long term damage to a vehicle’s electronics. This can be particularly problematic in modern vehicles. Given that nearly every car operates on a system of complicated electronics. Even more problematic is the fact that electrical problems can take some time to surface. which can be a terrible realization after purchasing a vehicle that is malfunctioning due to earlier water damage in the car’s electronic system.


5. Opt for the Lowest Risk Purchase (Theft Recovery):

Some theft-recovered vehicles often have no prior damage. These vehicles end up with a salvage title designation. If a significant amount of time has passed between the theft and recovery. In these cases, the insurance company will pay out the full value of the car prior to it being recovered. The company then must treat the vehicle as a total loss and designate the vehicle as salvage. In some states, mark the title with a theft recovery designation. If the vehicle did not sustain frame or mechanical damage during the theft, a buyer may be able to purchase a salvage vehicle whose quality is on par with any other non-salvage vehicles.


Each particular buyer needs to consider his or her limitations when considering a salvage vehicle. Based on the information above, there are certain types of vehicles that should be avoided due to the amount of risk they present. However, there are some vehicles that present low risk and can often be on par with other non-salvage used cars. Finding these types of vehicles is the key to a successful purchase.

In addition to picking the right car, proper preparation can also place a buyer in a position for success. These strategies involve obtaining a thorough inspection. Make certain that the vehicle’s documentation aligns with the vehicle’s reported condition.

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