salvage cars auction
What is Salvage title? Buyer Tips

Tips on Purchasing Salvage Cars from Auctions 

By Mike Richards Updated: 08/12/2022 Posted: 10/22/2015

Shopping for used cars can be exhausting. You never know what you’re going to get when you roll up to the address of someone who listed a car in your local classified ads, and, to make matters worse, you might have to end up haggling with a car dealer.

Many people just don’t want to deal with all this and decide to go another way: buying a salvage vehicle and restoring it themselves. There’s plenty to say about salvage vehicles, but there’s one thing that needs to be made clear first: how you can actually find one of these cars and how you can buy one.


What a Salvage Car Is and How to Find One

Salvage cars are vehicles that have been written off by an insurance company in the wake of sustaining some sort of damage. Typically, when someone says that their car was “totaled” in an accident, this means that the damage done to their vehicle would be more expensive to fix for an insurer than it would be to just pay the owner the cost of the vehicle and haul it away to the scrap yard.

These damaged cars are the primary source of salvage vehicles – in fact, they even have a “salvage” stamp or brand added to their title certificate.

Salvage cars, by legal definition in every one of the 50 states, are illegal to drive without first repairing them. Since they’re not worth the investment to an insurance company to actually repair and then resell, these insurers often try to recover at least a portion of the cost of writing them off by offering them up for sale through a car auction open to the public.

These auctions, which are available over the Internet or in person at a physical location, are often bursting with salvage cars of all types just waiting for someone to buy them.


The Ins and Outs of Buying Salvage Cars from an Auction

You’ve got a bit of work ahead of you if you plan on buying a salvage car to refurbish on your own. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hobbyist who wants to restore a totaled car on nights and weekends or if you’re the owner of a used car lot who wants to get some inexpensive stock by absorbing labor costs by having your employees repair the vehicle, you’ll have to put your money at a vehicle auction.

However, you need to be aware that not every salvage car is equal. Some damage repairs are easier than others. Additionally, the laws governing salvage vehicles can be very different from state to state, and that means some salvage cars might have to have sustained damage that costs only 60 to 75 percent of their total value to repair. Cars sourced from these states will be much more affordable to repair as a result.

Actually bidding on and winning a salvage car is a relatively straightforward process, though bidding on cars in person can be chaotic and intense. If you’re a novice, you might be much better off bidding on an online auction site where you can benefit from bidding from your favorite armchair or even your couch at home on your laptop or your smartphone. You’re also less prone to make a mistake in an online auction.

Finally, remember once again that you can’t simply drive a salvage car you win at an auction off the lot.

Instead, you’ll have to arrange for transportation to where you need it. Which could be anywhere from your driveway or garage to the service bay at your auto body shop or used car dealership.

This is why the majority of used car auctions, both online and in person, offer transport and shipping services. For an additional fee, you can have the auction house load your vehicle onto a trailer and then deliver it to the address you specify.

After delivery of your salvage car, make sure to hold on to every single scrap of paperwork that comes with it. You’ll have to document your repair process before getting the car on the road once more legally.

Find information on Rebuilt Title Laws for Each US State. Explore our Vehicle Auctions, as well as find more information about How These Auctions Work.