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Salvage Cars Repairable

You've heard the term "salvage title" before...so what does it mean?

If collision damage estimates are in excess of 70-75% of a car's Kelly Blue Book value, insurance companies will consider the car a total loss and write it off. With body work being as expensive as it is, sometimes it doesn't take much body damage for an older vehicle to be considered a total loss. At that point, the insurance company will usually sell a car at a salvage auction. Individuals can place bids at salvage auctions; some bidders are professional rebuilders or dealers who buy the car low, then do the work and get a "restored salvage" title at the time of resale. Others are going to be ordinary mechanically-inclined guys who are interested in finding a project car.

The "restored salvage" designation doesn't apply to every state. Some states don't have salvage titles for vehicles: .bulletz li { list-style:circle outside none; margin:0 40px 10px 20px; padding:0; }

  • Vermont
  • Kentucky
  • California
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Ohio
  • North Dakota
  • Mississippi
  • New York
  • New Jersey

You'll also need to remember that a number of things can make a wrecked car a bad deal. Things like severe frame damage, suspension problems, steering damage or safety-related issues (airbag, brake or ABS problems) can mean a car that may have drivability or handling problem for the rest of its life. Also remember that body damage can mean things like sensor problems, shorts, broken connectors and other electrical problems tied in to the collision damage. Cars with these problems may be excellent for parts, however.

The good news is that for someone with the mechanical knowledge and patience to work out the problems, a salvage titled older car can be a great deal. Cars have gotten much more sophisticated, and older models tend to be somewhat less complicated to service and work on. Also, with an older car's lower book value, a lower damage estimate (and less extensive damage) would mean that the insurer could call it a total. The flip side of an older model car is that for vehicles over 15 years old, replacement parts availability starts to become a problem.

Parts from a salvage yard are usually going to be just fine for a rebuild, unless you have the money for new parts. You'll need to remember, though, that a parts store's discount-price parts may not have the same quality as OEM parts from the manufacturer.

These are all things you're going to need to bear in mind if you're bidding on a repairable salvage car:

  • A lot of the other bidders will be people who make their living buying repairable salvage cars, doing the rebuild work, then reselling them at a profit. Don't put more money into the bid than you can afford.
  • Make as careful of an inspection of the car as you can before bidding starts. Be particularly aware of any problems that would compromise the car's safety, or would be too expensive to repair.
  • If you're not sure, have a mechanic or body man friend come with you. Before you bid, think about what kind of money you're able to spend, and what kind of investment of time and work you can expect to sink into the car to make it into something drivable or sellable.
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