Salvage titles: What you need to know before you buy a vehicle that has one

Salvage cars: Things to know
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If you’ve ever been in a serious auto accident or even purchased a car at auction, perhaps you’ve heard of salvage vehicles and salvage titles before. The truth is that in the car-buying world, there’s a major stigma attached to buying salvaged cars, but if you do your homework, you could drive away with a decent ride and some major savings.

If your vehicle has been declared a total loss by your insurer, before writing the car off, you may want to consider salvaging it. But let’s first explain what that really means.

Having a car declared salvage is not infrequent, and that designation doesn’t always mean that the vehicle has been damaged in a way that makes it worthless.

Besides a crash, there are many reasons why a car could end up as a salvage vehicle. Thousands of cars a year are salvaged due to hail damage, flooding or other misfortunes like vandalism.

It’s no secret that buying a salvage car comes with a degree of risk, but if you’re educated about what’s involved, you’ll greatly minimize the chances of losing your hard-earned money.

In rare instances, it may not be always possible to know everything that happened to a car with a salvage title. That’s what creates such risk around buying one.

Salvaged cars are not rated in Kelley Blue Book or other automotive standard-bearers. That makes ascribing value to a salvage car very subjective. Many dealerships are reluctant to accept a salvage title car as a trade-in, making private sales the only alternative.

The main upside to buying a salvaged vehicle is that you can score a perfectly serviceable car for thousands of dollars cheaper than you typically can through a dealer. You also don’t have to worry about a salesperson pressuring you into making a purchase. Buying a salvage car is something that should be done at your own pace.

4 tips to know before buying a salvage vehicle

  • Get the original repair estimate: The insurance company should able to provide you with the original repair estimate that they quoted early in the process. This document will help you have an idea about what repairs should cost.
  • Have the car inspected: It’s always a good idea to have a mechanic with you during the inspection process. If not, see if you can get the car to a body shop. This way, they can alert you to any issues you may not see and objectively tell you about repairs costs.
  • Buy from a reputable source: Do your homework. Don’t buy from someone on the side of the road or in a chop shop. At the same time, even if a business or owner seems legit, check them out online before you hand them a check.
  • Do a VIN check: Always know the history of a vehicle before you buy. Here’s how to get a free VIN report.

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Craig Johnson is a conscious money-saver who still reads paperback books and listens to vinyl. He likes to write about how technology is making things easier and more affordable — but also sometimes more dangerous — for the modern consumer. You can reach Craig at [email protected]
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