How to Find out if a Car Has a Salvage Title

Car buying can be stressful, but what if you find this fantastic deal on a car with ‘Salvage’ written on the title? Is it the answer to your car dreams? It may seem like a good deal on a used car, but it’s probably something you need to stay away from, and here’s why.

What is a salvage title?

A used car lot that potentially has a car with a salvaged title.
Used car lot | Getty Images

According to iSeeCars, a salvage title is a fancy name for a vehicle that has been put through the wringer. This can range from vehicles in wrecks, floods, fires, storms, or any other number of events that severely damaged it to the point where an insurance company decides it’s not worth saving.

Once the car is deemed unsavable, it’s sent to an impound lot and then to a salvage yard. From there, it may either be stripped for parts or sold to someone who thinks there might be a trace of life left in it. This is where it gets the title of a salvage vehicle.

How do you know if a car has a salvage title?

The easiest way is to check out the car title, which will often state expressly if it is. It may even specify that it went through a flood in some cases. This isn’t exactly full proof, however.

One problem with just looking at the title is that not all states place this on the title. Each state has its definition of what a salvage title is, so if you’re looking into such a vehicle, you may want to check what your state says and any states it’s been owned in previously. 

A quick check on either CarFax or Autocheck can help give you more information, especially if you have the car’s VIN. You can also try iSeeCars VIN Check.

With that being said, there is a lot of fraud involving salvage titles, so if the seller isn’t accommodating when providing the VIN, you may want to walk away. Titles can be physically tweaked by those seeking to take advantage of you, so it may have originally said it was a salvage, but then someone did a little fancy work to get rid of this. That’s why it’s crucial to do some research before committing to buying a salvage car. 

Are there any pros to owning a vehicle with a salvage title?

Like many things in life, there are a few benefits to buying a car with a salvage title. For one, it is cheap. Given the rising cost of used vehicles, this may seem like an offer too good to be true.

So what of the other pros? There aren’t anymore unless you’re a mechanic who has the skills and time to fix it.

As for the cons, those seem to be numerous. You’re probably going to use the money you saved by buying a salvage car to try and get it insured. If it can be insured, in many cases, it can’t.

Many states won’t allow you to drive it on public roads, so if you’re looking for a beater to get to and from work unless your office is located in your home, you’ve just wasted your money. It’s also challenging to resell the vehicle, and you probably won’t be able to break even, much less make a profit.

Then there are the safety risks. This will be different from vehicle to vehicle depending on the type of damage, but you’re taking a risk by purchasing a vehicle with a salvage title. It might be better to save up some money and find a used car that doesn’t come with all the baggage.

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