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Other than the normal stuff to look for when buying a used car, what else should you check or have inspected when buying a used car with a salvage or junk title?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Two Main things come to mind:

  • Flood - Interior, electronics, and engine should have been refurbished or replaced. Difficult to tell how extensive the flooding was. Lots of thrashed cars after Katrina ended up being sold as good.
  • Crash/Totaled - The body should have undergone extensive repair, and ensure the frame is straight or you'll be paying for it in the long run. The body might leak, if cracks went un-repaired.

In my honest opinion, avoid at all cost unless the person selling them is known for doing a good job with them.

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+1 on the avoid. –  Bob Cross Dec 11 '11 at 13:21
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+2 on the avoid :). Actually the only reason for a salvage title I'd even remotely consider would be theft, and I'd want to see documentation on what has been done on the car before even considering that. –  Timo Geusch Dec 11 '11 at 18:36
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I disagree just avoiding. It all depends on the cirumstances. Nowadays there's so many cars that end up getting totaled for just minor fender benders. Inspect carefully and research the "why" of the salvage title to see if it's something that you find acceptable. –  Brian Knoblauch Dec 12 '11 at 13:54
    
@BrianKnoblauch, from my point of view, the default state of a salvage title vehicle is "parts car." I'm happy to talk about salvaging pieces of such a vehicle. I don't want to purchase it. I don't want to find myself in the state of now trying to sell or dispose of a salvage title vehicle with even fewer bits (now that I've removed the parts that I care about). Your mileage will vary but, if you're hassle-averse, this is not the option for you. –  Bob Cross Dec 12 '11 at 15:31
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In general I agree with the avoid sentiment. But, I have bought a salvage title car ('94 dodge spirit) and was quite happy with it. It ran reliably for me from 60k miles until 120k miles. In this case there were some special circumstances:

  1. The seller was known personally to me before the sale. He was the owner/operator of a local body shop until he got fed up with dealing with employees. So, he "retired" by moving all his equipment out to his acreage and he now makes a living by buying cars at insurance company auctions, fixing them up and reselling them. (Just one guy no employees!)

  2. I was shown an extensive set of before and after pictures. The damage was minor: The passenger side front door was bashed in and replaced; The area around the door has some scratches that were painted over.

  3. I drove the car to a body and alignment shop that I trust for an inspection. I showed them the before and after pictures and asked them to measure everything carefully to make sure all was still in spec. All was as it should be.

I am telling this story so that people will know the sort of extra precautions and checks you have to make if you are going to take the risk of buying a salvage title care.

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IMHO the key thing to look at is why it is being sold as salvage.

I don't know about the US, but over here we have different categories (A-D) depending on how bad the damage is. The lowest category (D) is simply "not badly damaged, but not worth enough for the insurance company to bother fixing", wheras A is "This car must be crushed and no part of it may return to the road".

I know a couple of people who have had category C or D cars and returned them to the road quite happily, altohugh in all cases they did the repairs themselves (or had them done), so they knew the extent of the damage and the quality of the repair. If you are talking about an older, low value car, it is easy for a small amount of damage, such as a broken bumper or bent wing (fender) to take it "beyond economical repair", when a competent home mechanic could swap the panel with a secondhand one for a fraction of the price of an insurance repair.

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