So you want to get a new car – or a new-to-you used car – but you don’t have much to spend. What you do have, though, is lots of time and the willingness to work hard, not to mention your own garage. In cases like this, you just might want to look into buying a salvage car from an auction and rebuilding it yourself.
However, if you’ve never undertaken such a task before, there’s plenty that you should know before you even get started.
Step One: Educate Yourself
Vehicles can end up being classified as salvage if they’re wrecked in an accident, suffer damage from a flood, or if they’re stolen and then recovered at a later date. In any of these instances, the insurance company that covers the car will come up with a figure as to how much it would cost to repair the vehicle.
If this number is more than 60 to 70 percent of the car’s value, they’ll attempt to write it off instead in a process more well-known as “totaling” the vehicle. The car owner is offered money equivalent to the value of the car, and the totaled vehicle is towed away.
What happens next is up to the insurer. If the car is a complete wreck, it’s destined for the junkyard. If it’s repairable, the insurance company will get a “salvage title” for the car and then attempt to sell it at auction. All you need to do is to go to one of these auctions, buy one of those vehicles, and get it trailered back to your garage so you can start working on it.
Step Two: Put the Thing Back Together
Once you’ve got your salvage car in your garage or driveway, it’s time to get to work on it. However, before you start you need to check with your state’s department of motor vehicles, as salvage vehicle laws in some states require rebuilders to document the repair process through photographs or have other requirements you need to follow. Once you check these laws, you can go ahead and get started as long as you comply with any that apply to you during the reconstruction and rebuilding of your car.
The extent of the damage you’ll have to repair will differ from one vehicle to another. Whatever you do, make sure you retain all the paperwork associated with your rebuild, including the receipts for replacement parts you buy from auto parts stores and salvage yards. This will be important for the next step.
Step Three: Get Your Rebuilt Salvage Vehicle Inspected
After the repairs are complete, you’ll have to schedule an appointment with someone from your DMV or with a state police officer to certify that your car has been rebuilt to the state’s specifications. This includes making sure you didn’t use any stolen parts in your reconstruction, which is why keeping an intact paper trail is so important.
Once your inspector is convinced you’ve done a good job with the repair, you will be given a document that proves you passed. This will need to be submitted, along with your car’s salvage title, to the DMV. In exchange, you’ll get back a new “rebuilt salvage” title that lets you get your car insured and registered so you can drive it around.
Step Four: The Final Details
Of course, you’ll need to find an insurance company that’s willing to provide coverage to a rebuilt salvage car. This can sometimes be difficult since insurers hate providing cover for cars that have already been totaled, even if they’ve been rebuilt.
Often you’ll need to have your car inspected once more, this time by an insurance agent, to qualify for anything but the barest minimum of state-mandated insurance coverage. However, doing so will protect your investment.