So, What Is a Salvage Title and Is a Salvage Vehicle More Trouble Than It’s Worth?

If you’ve dug around in the internet for used cars on the classified sites for any amount of time, you have undoubtedly seen and eventually been tempted by a “great deal” on the car of your dreams. When wondering, “why is this low-mileage AMC Eagle so cheap?” (bad example. Eagles are always cheap) Then you see that little dime dropped, “comes with a salvage title.” If you get freaked and move on because you don’t know what it means and it sounds scary, take a beat and let’s see exactly what that means before passing on that cheap Golf GTI

What is a salvage title? 

Getting your dream car is likely something you can’t afford right this moment. I make assumptions about you, dear reader. I only say that because few of us dream of getting a 2001 Ford Taurus; we just buy those. Buying a wrecked car that needs a little love or one that was wrecked and already fixed can be an inexpensive way to turn your dream wheels into a reality. 

Scrap yard filled with old cars. Salvage title
scrap yard | Nicolas Armer/picture alliance via Getty Images

According to The Drive, a salvage title simply means that the car it accompanies has been in a serious accident and needed/needs extensive repairs. To put a finer point on it, these kinds of titles indicate that the insuring agency deemed the car “totaled” after its crash or whatever event damaged the vehicle. The repairs to get it back on the road would out-weigh the value of the vehicle. 

Rebuilt title vs salvage title

You may also run across the term “rebuilt title,” which depending on the state that issued the title, means that the vehicle has been fully repaired. As noted by The Drive, different states can use the two types of titles interchangeably, so it is important to research the specific state and how they use the two terms. 

Old exhaust pipes lie in a junk yard | Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images
Old exhaust pipes lie in a junk yard | Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images

Is it a good idea to buy a salvage title vehicle?

This is a complicated question. Buying a salvage title vehicle can be a good investment but requires a lot of research and a keen eye. Doing your homework is always a good idea when buying a vehicle. Still, when buying a salvage title car, you better do extra homework and a hands on inspection to see exactly what condition the vehicle is in. 

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You need to keep in mind a few key things when trying to buy a salvage car; financing, insurance, and resale. Honestly, these are the three main things you should think through for any car you buy, but they are doubly important for a salvage vehicle. 

Actually buying the car

Why you may be stoked to buy that wrecked WRX, your bank will not be. Contrary to popular belief, financial institutions don’t lend you money because they like you. Banks first want to know that you can pay them back. Secondly, they want to know that the thing you are borrowing money for has value. While you and I may know the potential for a WRX STI, the bank doesn’t care. They will likely see a wrecked pile of junk. So, be prepared to buy your salvage car in cash.

Insurance companies may give you some grief, too. They will do it, but they will most likely require the rebuilt title to prove the car is safe to drive and legal.

Lastly, selling it on might be a headache. A clean title will always be easier to sell and hold a higher value. A car without a story is always going to be easier to sell. People will balk at the funny title for the same reason you are here reading this article. These titles make people uneasy and worry that there is still some unsolvable problem. 

So, is buying a salvage title car worth it?

Sure. If the situation is right and you know what you are getting into and are handy with a wrench, then you can get a fun, otherwise pricing ride for cheap. But as my pops always says, “do you because you like it, not to save money.”