Should You Be Worried About A Salvage Title?


Buying a car with a branded title can be a double-edged sword if you're not careful.

Read in this article:

What Exactly is a Salvage Title?

When you're out shopping for used cars, you may come across a vehicle with a salvage or branded title. What this essentially means is that the vehicle has suffered some pretty serious damage in the past, with the damage being extensive enough that the damage exceeds a percentage of the car's value. The percentage varies depending on the insurance company, with some deeming 75% of the car's value sufficient to declare it as a 'total loss'. This includes damage from being crashed, or it could also include severe flood or hail damage. In rare circumstances, it may even be a totaled car.

It is required that a car seller in the USA report and document this information. In any situation, having a complete history of a vehicle is important. But, if a car has been in an accident, you need to know that you aren't getting a lemon that is going to give you endless trouble in the long run. If you are willing to buy salvage-title cars, you can find some really good deals, but you need to weigh the risks against the benefits.

Salvage Title Car
Salvage Title

The Different Types of Salvage Vehicles

Not all damage is the same, meaning that some salvage-title vehicles are a safer choice than others. Once you have identified some cars for sale with a salvage title, it is important to look over the report and see what you're dealing with. Here are the different types of damage you are likely to encounter when buying a salvage-title car:

  • Crash damage: Not every accident results in a totaled car. But, depending on the extent of the damage, your insurance may deem the repairs to be too costly in comparison to the value of the car. In this case, the car may be sold in that state so that whoever buys it can repair or rebuild it themselves. This is one of the more risky types of salvage title vehicles to purchase, though, so be extra careful when looking at crashed cars for sale.
  • Weather damage: While your warranty will likely cover corrosion, other damage from the elements is often up to you to repair. A little hail damage shouldn't be a serious problem - a trip to the panel beater will likely solve it. However, flood damage is rather more serious as it can compromise the mechanical components, and such extensive damage is sometimes even attributed to weather damage on the title.
  • Vandalism: This could be anything as innocuous as an impromptu spray paint job, or even a car that has been tipped over like a cow. As such, damage can vary, but this is seldom explained in the salvage title. Be sure to find out exactly what happened before you sign anything.
  • Theft recovery: Every so often, a stolen car may show up long after your insurance has paid for a replacement. In such circumstances, you do not get the car back. Instead, your insurer gets to sell it to recoup some of the costs, so long as they ensure it is properly labeled as a salvage. It might even be sold at an auction rather than directly.
  • Total write-off/Non-repairable: When the damage to a car is too severe, it is classified as non-repairable. This is basically the meaning of a totaled car. Some such cars are rebuildable, but for the most part, they are junkers. Junk cars for sale can make for great projects, for those who have the patience and skill, but any remaining value is usually found in their usable parts.
Types Of Salvage Vehicles

Is it Worth Buying a Salvage-title or Totaled Car?

You can definitely save some money if you are willing to buy a car that has a salvage title. But, there are going to be some downsides. A totaled car that has been rebuilt is particularly risky. Here is a quick breakdown of the pros and cons when considering salvage-title cars for sale in the US:

Pros and Cons

  • Even high-end cars are cheap with a salvage title
  • You can have a complete set of spare parts, if you own a similar car
  • A damaged car makes for a great project if you have the means to repair it
  • It can be very easy to overlook damage that isn't properly documented
  • Problems down the line can be expensive to repair
  • Most financiers won't be willing to give you a loan
  • Insurers may not jump at the chance to cover a 'damaged' vehicle

Where to Find and Buy Cars With a Salvage Title

You won't likely find salvage or rebuilt title cars for sale at your local dealership. There are several websites dedicated to this market, and you may be able to find adverts in the local classifieds or online forums.

Another great place to find these diamonds in the rough is at auctions. Whether the car with a salvage title is being auctioned off as-is, or an insurer has repaired the salvage-title car and is selling it off to recover costs, you're likely to save money. A salvage-title Lexus RX, for example, can be had at half of the price as-new, depending on the extent of the damage. You can find anything from small sedans to midsize trucks this way. Just be wary of independent sellers who may not give you all the information you need to make a smart decision.

Salvage Title Cars For Sale


What is a salvage/branded title?

These terms are generally interchangeable and are used to classify a vehicle that has suffered enough damage that repairing it would cost more than the car is actually worth. The type of damage varies from weather to crashes or theft.

How do I get a salvage title?

You can normally expect to pay between $10 and $50 to get a salvage title for your car. However, you will need to ensure that you have undertaken the necessary repairs to bring the vehicle back in line with road regulations. After that, it's just a case of filling out some forms and getting the car inspected. If everything checks out, you'll be issued a salvage/rebuilt title by your motor vehicle department.

Are salvaged cars bad?

Buying any used car is a risk already - you can read our blog on whether you should buy new or used cars here. So adding another risk factor in the form of existing damage should be carefully considered. There are laws put in place to protect buyers in this market, but not all sellers play by the rules. It is definitely advised that you not just take their word when they say the car has been properly rebuilt. Get the car inspected and take it for a test drive before you commit to anything, and research car-selling scams thoroughly before jumping headlong into a purchase.

Can you make money buying salvage cars?

Many junkyards or auto shops will buy salvage cars to get their hands on the parts at a low price. This is probably the safest way to make money from them. Alternatively, you could buy a junker and repair it yourself. This takes time and know-how, but it can be very lucrative, especially when dealing with classic cars. Just be sure everything is above board and that you pass the inspection with flying colors.

Was this article helpful?
Please rate it
This article is rated 4.4 by 86 readers
Top Car Care Tips For Your Ride
Getting To Know Your Car Warranty

Related Cars

To Top