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Unlock the Details: What is a Salvage Title?

Salvage Titles

You may have heard the term “salvage title” before, but had little understanding of what that truly means.  Salvaged cars or salvage titles may sound scary, but to some people, a salvage title can result in a good car at a low price. Continue reading to unlock many of the secrets about buying a salvaged vehicle, and to decide if it’s a good option for you.

What is a salvage title?

A vehicle title is used to indicate important information about the vehicle. It shows the make, model, VIN, color, and more. It also indicates the owner of the vehicle and the lienholder if applicable.

When a vehicle is damaged to a point where it will cost more to repair than the vehicle is worth, insurance companies will generally deem the car a total loss. At this point. the vehicle title is switched to salvage.

There are many ways a vehicle can attain a salvage title such as major crashes, flood damage, or fires. A lesser known way to attain salvage status is if the vehicle was stolen and not found within a given timeframe (usually a month). After that point, if the vehicle is recovered it gets a salvage title regardless of if any damage exists on the vehicle.

Car Accident

How to know if a car I want to buy has a salvage title?

First and foremost, ask to see the title. Each state differs, but most will show keywords such as “salvaged”, “rebuilt”, or “reconditioned” to indicate this. Some states also color titles differently to indicate salvage status.

Check the title for signs of tampering. It shouldn’t have any areas crossed out or rewritten. Even if the title doesn’t show indication of salvage or tampering, it is still a good idea to get a history report of the vehicle to get a better understanding of its history. Carsforsale.com offers Vehicle History Reports that will tell you if the title is in salvage status.

Are Salvage Titles Worth It?

Here are some instances where a salvage title vehicle may function just as well as any other vehicle.

If you’re looking at older, cheaper vehicles:

Older cars that are worth less money can even be totaled by a minor fender bender. This is because parts and labor are expensive, to repair even a single body panel can cost thousands of dollars.

Body Work

If you don’t care about the resale value:

Salvage vehicles sell for less money. This is because of the stigma they carry, but for good reason. So, you can get a car on the cheap and it works great for you. But don’t expect that just because it’s in great shape that you’ll get a good price when it comes time to sell. The salvage stigma will dramatically reduce your resale value.

If you don’t mind a car that has had work done or needs work done:

If the vehicle you’re looking at has a salvage title because of an accident and has documentation of the damage and all of the repairs done, it may be a good option. It may look and behave as good as new!

You can also purchase vehicles that still need repairs. These types of purchases allow you to decide how to move forward with the repair process and also make sure it’s being repaired up to your standards. You can even choose to live with issues if they don’t affect you, such as a stuck rear door.

If you can live with a vehicle that doesn’t look perfect:

As an example, hail damage can cause massive repair bills due to many body panels needing repair. This can easily salvage a vehicle. However, vehicles with this type of damage will most likely not have sustained any mechanical damage. It might not be pretty, but you can save a ton of cash!

Hail Damage

Other Salvage Title Considerations

Purchasing salvage comes with a few caveats that you should be aware of; here are the main points.


Never pay “blue book” for a vehicle with a salvage title. Salvage title vehicles values vary wildly but on average are worth about sixty percent of what a clean titled vehicle of the same model is worth. If you can verify the reason for the salvage title (along with any repair estimates/bills) you can make a more informed offer.


You’ll probably have to purchase the vehicle with cash. This is because banks don’t value salvage title vehicles very highly and pose a larger risk than non-salvaged examples.


You may not be able to get comprehensive coverage on the vehicle since the insurance company will not have a way of knowing the “true” value of the vehicle. This is tied into why banks won’t offer loans (most require comprehensive insurance). However, you will probably be able to attain liability insurance, which is much cheaper, but covers a lot less.

Resale Value

Salvage title vehicles are just not worth as much. Don’t expect to even get a trade-in offer or to get much when selling privately. That’s just the nature of salvaged vehicles.


In some states, the city or a repair shop must inspect a salvaged vehicle before it can be registered.

Whatever car you decide on, you should always be informed before making the purchase. Have the vehicle checked out by a repair shop that you trust before purchasing the vehicle. If everything checks out, you might be on your way to your next car! Take the first step now at www.carsforsale.com by selecting “Repairable” under the “Condition” filter.

Caroline Rex

She's a graphic designer by trade, but loves writing blog posts on the side. As a closet car fanatic, Caroline enjoy sprinkling knowledge about the unique ins and outs of the underdogs of the auto world. #neonsruletheworld

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