Tips, Tricks & Trends

Avoid Salvage Title Cars Like the Plague

When it comes to used-car shopping, everyone is looking for a good deal. However, when skimming through classifieds, you might notice that some cars are much cheaper than others. They may look tempting, but upon closer inspection, you might notice that they have a “salvage” title. And while salvage titles don’t necessarily mean the car is a death trap, it could be a sign that you shouldn’t buy it, and here is why.

What is a salvaged-title car?

A car with a salvage title is typically one that’s been damaged so badly that it costs more to repair than the actual car is worth. However, the definition of a car being salvaged can vary from state to state.

A car that has been branded with a salvage title doesn’t always mean that it’s due to an accident. Cars can be salvaged due to flood, fire, or even theft. For example, if the car was stolen and recovered, but the owner has already been compensated for the car.

How to know if a car is salvaged

More often than not, salvaged cars are sold by private owners, however, they can be sold by a small private dealer as well. It’s important to be vigilant when it comes to making sure that the car that you’re interested in is not salvaged.

There are a couple of ways to find out. First, the actual title of the car will say “salvage” somewhere on it, typically in the upper-right corner. Second, we suggest taking the car to an ASE-certified mechanic to do a pre-purchase inspection (PPI).

When a mechanic looks over the car, they will be able to notice any added welds or suspicious repairs that may have been done to the car. They can also note any types of other damage that could mean the car was in a bad accident or even flooded.

A lot of times, salvaged cars will have non-OEM replacement parts or even parts from several other cars to make it look like it was repaired correctly.

Speaking of which, there are actual repair shops that solely work on salvaged cars in order to rebuild them as close to OEM-spec as possible. While we recommend staying away from salvaged cars completely, buying a car from a reputable rebuild shop could be a good last resort if you’re really looking to spend below your budget.

Truck accident with airbags deflated
Truck accident with airbags deflated | Buche and Associates/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The bad usually outweighs the good

Don’t get us wrong, there are probably plenty of salvaged cars in the market that could be perfectly good daily drivers for years, however, the “cons” usually outweigh the “pros.”

The positive side to purchase a car with a branded title is that they are usually much more affordable than those with clean titles. In fact, you can typically expect to pay about half as much.

On top of that, if you’re lucky, you might even get one that had minimal damage and was repaired so well that no one could ever tell that it was salvaged.

But on the other hand, it’s usually not worth the gamble. It’s easy to overlook shoddy repair work or even spot damaged that wasn’t detected before. In both cases, this could lead to much more money out of your pocket later on.

Another important part is the insurance. A car with a branded title stays branded forever, and since it’s not worth as much as before, some insurance companies might increase your rates because it’s considered more of a liability. And other insurance companies might not even cover it all.

Deadly car accident
Deadly car accident | Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Be safe, stay away

Again, you might be able to find a salvaged car that works for your needs and your budget with minimal damage and repairs needed. However, we recommend staying away altogether as it’s not worth the risk and you might still spend more money eventually if something goes wrong.

A clean-title car might cost thousands more, but having the peace of mind that it won’t have issues down the road could be worth every penny.