Damaged Salvage Car

So what's a salvage car?

A salvage car is a car or truck that's been through some sort of damage and is considered a total loss by the insurer. The damage could mean anything from a collision, flooding, vandalism, fire, theft recovery or any number of other things. Regardless, it means that the cost of repair is considered to be more than the car's worth, and the insurance adjuster then writes it off as a salvage or total loss.

Not every state has salvage titles. About a dozen states do not record salvage titles as such. In the states that do, however, it's possible to get a car at 50-70% off the book value, with only repair and restoration work needed to bring them back to roadworthy condition. Sometimes the damage is major, with things like mechanical problems (steering, suspension, brakes, radiator, engine and transmission mounts), safety-related issues (ABS, airbags, seat belts, sensors), frame damage or other serious problems that can make the car unsafe to rebuild. Other times, it's nothing more than sheet metal damage from a collision (or even a hailstorm), blown tires, cracked or broken taillight and headlight lenses, trim, interior damage or other relatively minor things that can still add up to more than an insurance company would like to pay. Also, remember that any kind of body work is expensive -- on an older car with lower blue book value, it will take less damage for the insurer to write it off as a total.

Just remember that you really need to know what you're doing if you're going to get into this game. Some damaged salvage cars are truly going to be junk, with problems that will make it impossible to repair and put safely on the road again. It's easy to find hidden problems that you didn't know about and have them reveal themselves after you've bought the car and it's too late.

Despite this, it's still possible to get rare, or difficult to find parts or even body pieces from a damaged salvage car. If you're in doubt, have a body man or mechanic friend come with you and walk you through the inspection beforehand. Even though a car that doesn't show much cosmetic damage can still have driveline problems, electrical problems or other issues, it may still have usable items, like original glass, hardware, or parts in good working order. That's where salvage cars become a lottery, and you may hit it big if you buy a car with great bones at a low price. You'll need to bear in mind, though, that many states require extra inspections and checks before a rebuilt salvage-title car can be put back on the road and registered again.

In any case, try to go in with a minimal investment on the front end before you start putting money, time and effort into rebuilding a damaged salvage car. That way, if you resell you'll hopefully come out better; if you keep it for yourself you'll be looking good indeed.