Are Salvaged Cars Worth Considering?

September 28th, 2010

2008 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Next time you buy a used car, maybe you should consider one with a salvage title.

I know that goes against all rational advice and conventional wisdom for used-car buying, but there are certain conditions where a salvaged car might actually make sense. First, though, it’s important to understand exactly what a salvage (or junk) title really means.

Generally, though it varies greatly by state, a salvage title is issued to a damaged car when the insurer determines the cost of repair exceeds about 75 percent of its market value at the time of the accident. Repaired cars are often sold with the “salvaged” or “rebuilt” brand on the title at substantial discounts over similar cars with clean titles.

Considering how many ways a car can get destroyed, there are certainly risks in buying once-wrecked vehicles. However, you could also score the deal of a lifetime.

First, there are two rules I simply won’t bend regarding salvaged cars: Never buy a vehicle damaged by water or a vehicle with a bent frame. Between the devastating effects of water on electrical parts and the permanent risk of mold growth, water-damaged cars must always be avoided. Frame damage never really goes away either. Once the metal is bent, its integrity is compromised, and that could turn into a serious safety issue.

That said, I would consider cars repaired after:

  • Heat damage. I owned a 2004 Honda Pilot that, in 2004, was parked next to another vehicle that burned to the ground. While the Pilot never caught fire, the driver’s side suffered some serious melting. The car went into the body shop, all new parts were ordered from Honda, and the car was put back together, good as new.
  • Theft. In some states, cars that are stolen are classified as a total loss. When recovered, they generally don’t have major damage other than cosmetic issues that are fairly easy fixes. Stolen cars make great salvage cars!
  • Collisions. Late model luxury cars involved in accidents can be expensive to repair, and it doesn’t take total devastation to declare a car such as a Mercedes-Benz E-Class a loss. Body damage and mechanical parts can be repaired, so buying salvaged could save you a bundle.

If you find a salvaged vehicle you’re interested in, do three things. First, realize that very few dealers will take salvages on trade-in, and they can be hard to resell privately. Make sure you want to keep it for a while! Second, check the car’s price by looking up the value of the same model to compare prices of cars with clear titles. (CarGurus offers a cool new pricing tool that’ll get you started.) Finally, have the car inspected at a body shop! They will be able to look for evidence of water damage and inspect the frame.

If you’re patient, on a tight budget, and know what to look for, there’s no reason a salvaged vehicle can’t provide years of reliable service.

Would you consider a vehicle with a salvage title?

-tgriffith

Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Honda Pilot
Used Mercedes-Benz E-Class

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  1. May 11th, 2012 at 10:05 | #1

    My Camry got rear-ended a few years back, which bent its frame a tiny bit. The one ongoing problem that causes for me is that my tires won’t align super well, so they wear more quickly than they should. The bend probably hurts my mileage a bit, too, but other than that, I haven’t seen any real problems.

    I would definitely have a mechanic take a look at that Cobalt to get an expert opinion on that particular car before making a decision, though. My bend is very slight, and I’m sure a bigger bend could cause bigger problems. Good luck!

  2. RON
    May 11th, 2012 at 02:55 | #2

    should I buy a 05 chev cobalt that has a a kink or mashed in the rear uniboby frame? The vehicle drives great and no transmission links. Engine is very clean.

  3. September 28th, 2010 at 07:39 | #3

    Having been in the auto repair business for over 20 yrs, I totally agree with never by a vehicle that has a salvage title as a result of a flood. Usually insurance companies will repair flooded cars if the water level was below dash or even center consoles. If it has a salvage title, either it had a high water level or the value was low enough that even minor flood repairs exceeded the value.

    However, bent frames? Bent frames are repaired all the time. A bent frame does not meen an automatic total loss. When a frame rail is actually kinked or mashed, yes, that cannot be repaired as per I-Car standards and the manufacturer’s recomendations. On full framed vehicles, generally, this means replacing the frame. Depending on the ACV vehicle, the vehicle could be repaired. On the subject of unibody vehicles; the manufactures have taken steps to offer frame rail sectioning proceedures as well as frame section replacement parts. Some frames due to the metals makeup, have few repair recomendations and most with limited or no heat during the repairs. In a lot of cases when a vehicle is deemed a total, the cost of the air bags and the required replacement parts involved in an air bag deployment is what pushes the repairs beyond the threshold. However, my point is, a bent frame is not necessarily a deal breaker.

  1. September 28th, 2010 at 17:26 | #1