What is Salvage title? Export cars from the U.S. Buyer Tips

Importing Used or Salvage Vehicles from the United States into El Salvador including Toyota

By Mike Richards Updated: 07/27/2022 Posted: 09/19/2016

For those who wish to import the U.S. used and salvage motor vehicles to other countries, including Toyota, El Salvador is an incredibly attractive destination. As a matter of fact, cars purchased through salvage and used car auctions in the United States make up the overwhelming majority of used vehicles sold in El Salvador, coming in at roughly 90% of the market overall. Needless to say, this is welcome news to the would-be exporter/importer of used and salvage U.S. vehicles!

However, in order to break into the El Salvadorian used car market via U.S. imports, there are some things you’ll want to know. For one, you’ll want to understand the best way to purchase used and salvage vehicles from U.S. car auctions. Second, you’ll want to understand everything that’s involved with getting your vehicles from the shores of the United States to the shores of El Salvador. You’ll also want to know how to get through customs, and what cars are ripe for import. That and more is what we’ll be taking a look at below…


Purchasing Used or Salvage Cars at U.S. Auctions

When it comes to purchasing used and salvage cars in the United States, especially for import into El Salvador, there are no better options than online used car auctions. Through sites that offer this service, average consumers and importer/exporters can gain access to used and salvage car auctions in the United States that had previously only been available to individuals and businesses with dealer’s licenses. This is possible because these online car auction sites list vehicles from certain dealer-only auction houses on their site so that you get access to this inventory at great prices.

Best of all, online car auction sites are incredibly easy to use!

To get started, you only need to set up an account and make an initial deposit. The deposit is necessary to establish your bidding power with the site. Typically, the size of your deposit equates to one-tenth of your total bidding power. For example, were you to make an initial deposit of $1,000, you’d be able to bid up to $10,000 total on used and salvage cars in U.S. auctions.

After setting up your account and making a deposit, you will be able to browse the extensive inventories of used and salvage cars available through auctions across the United States. If you need assistance, you’ll have access to an auction broker or agent who can help you with everything from choosing bid prices to locating automobiles that are perfect for your needs. This agent can also connect you with auctions and vehicles that can’t be displayed publically. As we said, online used car auctions are tremendous!

Note: When purchasing a used or salvage vehicle in the United States that’s to be imported into El Salvador, know that there are some restrictions concerning what kinds of used automobiles can be imported. Normal passenger vehicles can be no more than eight years old; buses can be no more than 10 years old, and trucks can be no more than 15 years old. Currently, there are no restrictions pertaining to left-side-drive or right-side-drive vehicles.



Shipping a Used or Salvage U.S. Vehicle to El Salvador

Given that used and salvage vehicles from the U.S. are regularly imported into El Salvador, you should have no issues when it comes to finding a port that offers service. Most major ports and even many smaller ports offer shipping services to El Salvador.

The only real choice you’ll have is choosing your shipping method. You can, of course, ship your vehicle or vehicles by the container. There is another option, though. It’s called RORO shipping, which stands for “roll-on roll-off”. With this method, instead of your vehicle being packed away into a container, it will simply be rolled onto the ship at the departure port and then rolled off at the arrival port. Needless to say, this method of shipping is incredibly convenient, and it’s also significantly less expensive. (Do remember, though, that without the protection of a container, the potential for damage occurring in transit does exist.)

Once you’ve selected your port and your method of shipping, you’ll need to select an arrival port within El Salvador itself. There are several options to consider, including:

  • Port of Acajulta
  • Port of Cutuco

The Port of Acajulta serves as El Salvador’s major container port, and will likely be the best arrival port for your U.S. used or salvage vehicle. The Port of Cutuco is an option too, though! The first is located on the country’s southeastern coast, where as the other lies to the southwest of San Miguel.

For more information about El Salvador’s major Port of Acajulta, you can consult its official website here.


Getting Your Used or Salvage Car Through U.S. Customs

Getting your used or salvage vehicle through U.S. Customs is a relatively straightforward process. In terms of documentation, you’ll need your vehicle’s Original Certificate of Title and either a certified copy of the original or two complete copies of the original. These copies must be submitted to U.S. Customs at your departure port at least 72 hours in advance of your shipping date along with the vehicle in question.

With the vehicle and title in hand, U.S. Customs will review the documentation, ensuring that it is indeed the correct documentation for your vehicle. In addition, they will conduct a thorough inspection of the vehicle, ensuring that there is no contraband or other illicit substances illegally stowed. Provided that everything checks out and that the Original Certificate of Title corresponds to the copies, the vehicle will then be cleared for loading.

Should you have any questions about where to present your vehicle to U.S. Customs, simply contact the Port Director at your departure port. If you have any further questions about the process of clearing your used or salvage cars through U.S. Customs, please consult their website here.

Note: Before taking your car to U.S. customs at your departure port, please be sure that you’ve had an emissions test conducted on your vehicle or vehicles. Proof of a successful emissions test will be part of the required documents that must be presented to customs once your vehicle arrives at the port in El Salvador.


Getting Your Used or Salvage Car Through El Salvadorian Customs

When presenting a used or salvage U.S. vehicle for importation into El Salvador, there are several important documents that must be presented to customs. These are:

  • An Original Bill of Landing
  • An Original Commercial or Purchase Invoice
  • Your Driver’s License
  • Your Passport
  • Original Certificate of Title
  • Original Vehicle Registration
  • Certificate from Origin DMV Certifying that the Vehicle Is Not Stolen

As will be discussed below, the original commercial or purchase invoice will be used to assess the value of the car. Keep in mind, though, that the customs authorities are able to use their own prerogative when determining the value of a vehicle when there is some dispute over it.

Note also that the Original Bill of Landing for the vehicle must be separate from any other household goods that might have been shipped with the vehicle. In addition, this Original Bill of Landing must contain the following information:

  • The Vehicle’s Engine Size
  • The Vehicle’s Engine Identification Number
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • The Vehicle’s Make
  • Vehicle’s Model
  • The Vehicle’s Date of Manufacture

In addition to the aforementioned documentation, you must also present a Certification of Gas Emissions from the vehicle’s manufacturer. The manufacturer must authenticate this document prior to shipping.

For more information about El Salvadorian customs and to answer any questions you might have about clearing your vehicle, please consult the country’s Dirección General de Aduanas’ website.


Import Duties and Sales Tax for U.S. Vehicles Imported in El Salvador

As the earliest adopter of the Central America-Dominican Republic-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), there are a number of advantageous breaks in tariffs and taxes that importers of U.S. salvage and used vehicles can take advantage of in El Salvador. However, some of these breaks have been slowly phased out over the previous decade. Therefore, you may find it difficult to ascertain which ones are still operative and which ones are not.

Because of this, it may be advisable to seek the assistance of a customs broker when importing U.S. used and salvage vehicles into El Salvador. He or she will be able to navigate the sometimes-byzantine regulations of the CAFTA-DR, assisting you in paying the lowest import duties and taxes possible. In fact, you may wish to consult with a customs broker before even purchasing a vehicle or vehicles for import. Given that some breaks have phased out and others have not for certain vehicles and products, understanding the rules before you buy will help to ensure you turn the maximum profit possible.

Speaking broadly about import duties and taxes in El Salvador, here is the general rundown. Passenger vehicles will be subject to a 1% to 30% import tariff. Based upon how they relate to the regulations of CAFTA-DR.

In addition,

  • a passenger vehicle’s engine size,
  • accessories,
  • and model year are taken into account calculating the percentage of the tariff.

For trucks, buses, and automotive parts there is a flat 1% tariff imposed.

Determining the actual monetary value of the tariff, use a commercial invoice to determine the car’s value. In the case of used vehicles or when there is a dispute about the value of a vehicle. El Salvadorian customs will determine their value themselves. To do this, they will consult Kelley Blue Book, Edmund’s, The Older Car Red Book, and other similar sources.

Value Added Tax of 13% for imported used automobiles. As well as both new and used automotive parts. Note that registered diplomats are not subject to tariffs or taxes when importing U.S. used vehicles into El Salvador.


The Used Car Market in El Salvador

The United States and cars originating there own a favorable position in the El Salvador automotive market. With a 30% market share. United States automotive products are generally of high regard. Especially in light of their general quality, generous warranties, and history of dependability.

Of particular note to the would-be importer of U.S. used and salvage vehicles is this. According to information provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Association, nearly 90% of used vehicles sold in El Salvador were first purchased at salvage car auctions in the United States. After importing salvage cars into the country, local mechanics and car dealers repair them.

The low tariffs and taxes on importing new and used automotive parts cause this. One should note that there’s potential for profit in importing used salvage vehicles from the United States into El Salvador. Not just as cars for driving, but also as sources for spare parts.


The Most Popular and Least Popular Used Cars in El Salvador

Following the trends in other Central American and South American countries, Asian automobiles are the most popular with El Salvadorians. Data shows Toyota owns a 25% market share of the El Salvadorian auto market. With Kia and Hyundai following close behind with 16.4% and 13.5% market share respectively.

Regardless of make, though, the most popular kind of vehicle for El Salvadorians remains the pickup truck. U.S.-made pickup trucks are for the quality and availability of replacement parts. However, cheaper alternatives from Asian manufacturers are also quite popular. Salvage pickup trucks from U.S. salvage car auctions are a force to reckon with in El Salvador.