salvage yard
What is Salvage title? US States Rebuilt Title Rules Buyer Tips

Tips on Purchasing Salvage Cars at Auction 

By Mike Richards Updated: 08/18/2022 Posted: 10/24/2015

Salvage cars are great opportunities for some types of individuals. If you’re the kind of person who absolutely loves working hard on bringing cars with accident damage, either for personal use or to re-sell at a profit. There’s little better than a salvage car, especially because they’re so affordable to buy.

With most salvage cars being available through used car auctions. It’s important to know what to look for in a salvage car and how to pick the right one. So here are some important tips on purchasing salvage cars at auction easily and effectively.


Know What You’re Looking For When Purchasing Salvage Cars at Auction

Visiting a used car auction early before the bidding starts for the day offers you the opportunity to walk around the lot and get a feel for what’s going up on the auction block for that day. You’ll be able to conduct visual inspections of the cars. While you may not be able to start any of the cars up to see if they run – it’s an “as-is” event for a reason. You can easily see if there’s any prominently visible damage that the car suffered before the salvage status.

This is important because not every salvage car is created equal. Different states have different laws when it comes to what needs to happen to a car before it can be declared “salvage,” and while there are some constants, like the cost of repairs having to reach a significant percentage of the value of the car, the specifics will vary across state lines.

A car that suffered enough damage to get a salvage declaration in one state might not be enough damage to be salvage in a neighboring state, for instance.

Additionally, cars with little in the way of visible damage might be there because they suffered environmental damage. Like being in a flood.

And while the car might have visibly dried out on the inside since then, the interior electronics might never be the same.

That’s not to say that a car with little to no damage is always harboring secret flaws, though. In the event of theft-recovery salvage cars, or write-offs after theft but then found afterward relatively intact. The car could easily be mechanically sound and only be suffering from minor cosmetic blemishes.

Whatever the former fate of the car, it’s important to do much visual inspection before the auctioneers start. Especially if you’re going to be bidding on this visit.


Know Your Costs

Salvage cars can be very inexpensive when purchased at auction. The real costs in buying a salvage car can easily be in restoring it to the point where it’s drivable once more. So, if you don’t have the detailed mechanical knowledge needed to determine what it’s going to cost to restore a particular car, you might want to bring along a qualified mechanic with you to give you his or her expert opinion on any salvage vehicles you’re thinking of buying.

It could save you a lot of money in the long run – and this is especially important if you’re planning on getting your salvage car certified as rebuilt and then selling it as such to someone looking for a cheap car to drive around. Not everyone can afford new cars, after all.

Additionally, think about the costs of transporting a salvage car off the lot if you do end up with the winning bid. As even mechanically sound salvage vehicles are illegal to drive.

If you have your own flatbed trailer, you can simply load the car up and drive off with it without a problem, but if you don’t have a trailer of your own – or if you’re “attending” a used car auction through its online website – you’ll have to arrange for transport from the auction company itself.

This usually isn’t a problem, but it does require you to pay an additional fee for the service. Since salvage cars are cheap, this additional cost is rarely an issue. But it is something to keep in mind if it’s important to keep your costs down. If you’re simply buying a salvage car for your own needs, this is probably going to matter much less to you than if you’re buying a salvage car in an attempt to rebuild it and sell it at a profit.

Find information on Rebuilt Title Laws for Each US State. Explore our Vehicle Auctions and find information on Buying With Us.