When you’re shopping for a used vehicle, you may come across the term “salvage used car”. Any dealer/seller must state their vehicle has a salvage title if it has one; otherwise, they’re breaking the law. You may want to avoid salvage vehicles and shop for high-quality used cars instead. However, it is possible to purchase, insure, and drive such vehicles. We’ll explain what a salvage title is and some considerations when buying one.

What Does It Mean If a Car Has a Salvage Title?

A salvage title means a car has little financial value, often because it was severely damaged in an accident, and repairing it would cost more than the vehicle is worth. The insurance company may take the vehicle and repair, rebuild, or resell it. Sometimes it may let you keep the car along with a salvage title. 

Salvage titles can also be issued for vehicles that have been:

  • Damaged in a flood or fire
  • Stolen
  • Vandalized
  • Have had parts stolen

However, not all salvaged used cars are severely damaged. Some salvage title cars are those that were returned under warranty, have already been rebuilt or remanufactured, or were used as law enforcement vehicles or taxis.

Can a Salvage Title Car Be Restored?

Depending on the vehicle and its condition, you may be able to restore it. However, in California, you’ll need to pay a salvage title registration fee. There’s also a salvage and dismantled vehicle inspection fee and a prior history fee, while other costs and fees may apply as well. If you intend to make the vehicle legal to drive again, make sure you know all the registration and insurance requirements are met and that it’s safe to take on the road.

Is It Possible to Buy a Salvage Used Car?

Yes. A salvage title car can often be purchased at a low price. It’s an option if you can’t get an auto loan and have little cash to spend. You can’t use an auto loan to buy a car with a salvage title anyway. But depending on your circumstances, you could take out a personal loan, although the interest rate and monthly payments may be higher.

Should I Buy a Used Car with a Salvage Title?

Buying a salvage title car isn’t always as risky as it sounds. You may even save money. But there can be disadvantages that are worth considering:

  • Challenges with Financing: Banks and other lenders are often reluctant to finance a salvaged vehicle. Even if you’re approved for a loan, expect to pay more in interest and to have to pay it back sooner.
  • Repair Costs: Since the car has little value, an insurance company won’t cover much damage, and you won’t get a high payout after an accident. Your insurance premium will be higher and you won’t be eligible for an extended warranty. And, it’s also likely the car will need repairs in the future.
  • Questionable Vehicle History: Always check the vehicle history report before considering a used or salvaged car. This can tell you if it’s been involved in any accidents, has had flood or fire damage, or has not been maintained as recommended.
  • Difficult to Trade In: A salvage title car has so little value that it can be difficult to trade in later for a new car. It’s likely less than half the value of a similar car. This makes it a risk for a dealership. You may also encounter sellers just looking for parts, while a private party may be reluctant to purchase a salvaged car.
  • Safety: Not all cars with salvage titles are unsafe. But many rebuilt vehicles can have issues with airbags, for example. Before purchasing such a vehicle, have it checked by a qualified mechanic or inspector.

Can a Salvage Title Car Be Insured?

A salvage title car cannot be insured. Once a car has a salvage title, its status will never fully go away. The vehicle will always be considered rebuilt or restored. This must be disclosed whenever selling the vehicle. But once it is rebuilt or restored, it may be insurable, albeit not beyond the state-required minimum coverage.

How Do I Rebuild a Salvage Vehicle?

When you purchase a salvage used car, make sure the seller reveals the damage and the vehicle’s title status. Some sellers attempt “title washing” to hide the facts to get a better price for the car. Obtaining a vehicle history report using the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) helps avoid falling into this trap.

Once you find a salvage title car for sale you want, take it to a mechanic to determine if there are signs it’s been salvaged. These include non-factory replacement parts, mismatched paint, misaligned doors or windows, and faulty electrical components. You can ask the mechanic for repair recommendations or if they’d advise purchasing the car. If you know the car has a salvage title, ask the seller for the repair documents so you know what the problem is. Then, contact your insurance company to determine if the car is insurable and to get a quote. 

Visit Hawthorne Auto Square

Hawthorne Auto Square has a vast inventory of high-quality, fully inspected used cars at our buy here, pay here dealership in Los Angeles. An honest and reputable dealer, we provide complete information on each vehicle’s history and condition. Each purchase includes a 30-day, 1,000-mile warranty, and extended service warranties are available. Feel free to browse our used car listings, call (866) 707-7664 to learn about our warranties and flexible financing options, or visit Hawthorne Auto Square in person.