Edmunds Answers



  • zaken1 12/21/08 8:56 pm PST

    A salvage title throws the whole price issue up into the air; the selling price becomes totally dependent on 1> the availability and interest of potential buyers; and 2> the actual condition of the vehicle.

    When a vehicle has been seriously enough damaged to be declared a total loss by the insurance company (which is what creates a salvage title); the insurance company's experts have determined that the probable cost of repairs would exceed the value of the vehicle. If somebody then buys the vehicle for a few hundred dollars and attempts to restore it to roadworthy condition; they often do not address, or they overlook or conceal such critical items as a bent frame, axles out of alignment, damaged suspension components, or hidden electrical problems. These defects are often very difficult to detect without diagnostic tools or lots of experience in knowing where to look; but they can cause serious problems in the car's subsequent driveability, safety, and reliability. The law often does not require the kind of inspection which can detect these issues; so it becomes the buyer's responsibility to have the car thoroughly checked out by competent specialists.

    I would NEVER buy a vehicle with a salvage title, without having it inspected for damage by a body or frame shop that has frame measuring and straightening equipment. I would also insist that the alignment of all 4 wheels be checked and recorded. I would also either spray the car thoroughly with a high pressure hose (particularly all the windows, doors and body seams), or run the car through a car wash while someone sits inside, and looks for water leaking into the passenger compartment. I would also raise the car up on a hoist, and throughly check the underside for new welds, new parts, and suspension damage which has not already been disclosed. If there are ANY parts which have been freshly painted; I would make very sure that the paint is not concealing welds or other damage. Sometimes an important part is welded, rather than being replaced. In such applications, welds may not be strong enough to hold securely over time.

    If you decide to buy the car, I would not pay more than half the retail value of an identical, undamaged car. You also need to bear in mind that an insurance company will probably not cover the replacement cost of such a car; if it is subsequently damaged. If this is important to you; speak with your insurance agent BEFORE buying the car. And if you ever decide to sell it, you can expect to go through a very difficult process; which probably will give you very little money.

    Bearing this all in mind; sometimes a salvaged car can be a good bargain; but it is essential to be fully aware of the downside.


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