To Buy or Not to Buy? Rebuilt/Salvage Titles

If your like me, you have a tendency to randomly roam Craigslist for everything from cars to motorcycles and anything else with an engine. So let me give you a scenario.

You run a general search for various cars. Not looking for anything specific, you come across the typical overpriced cars that are on their last legs. You also come across spammers and scammers with high end vehicles for fifty grand under blue book value. Or, you come across the perfect project or the dream ride with a stock photo. Not too impressive of a search until the unthinkable happens. 

Here it is, you see a 06 SRT8 300 for an unbelievable price. The pictures look immaculate, it has a few other goodies like custom wheels and “lite engine work.” The description, accurately, hits every key point you want. 6.1L HEMI, leather interior, non-smoker, heated seats, premium audio, tires with 75% tread. Your in love and everything goes good until you see this…”Salvage/Rebuilt Title.” Yes this really happened to me. It was depressing.

A salvage or rebuilt title means the car suffered major damage. Let’s say your 06 SRT8 300 was hit from behind at 50mph. For the car to be totaled out, the damage had to exceed 75% of the predamaged value.  Typically, the insurance company will give you a settlement, which takes a few bottles of ibuprofen and a hardcore, “won’t take no for answer”attitude, which starts off way lower than the vehicles value. After fighting, both parties agree on a settlement and the insurance company gets a totalled pile of car. 

So what happens after the insurance company takes possession of your wreck? They sell it at an auction and give the new owner a salvage title, which is as good as a death certificate at this point. The “Salvage” designation basically means you can drive it…in your yard. In the state of North Carolina, a salvage vehicle cannot be driven on the road or have a license plate. Even flood damaged cars or cars that are completely drivable can’t be driven. But don’t worry, your not completely dead in the water. 

After undoing all of the damage, you can get a “Rebuilt/Salvage” title which can change the fate of the car, after vigorous inspection. You would need pass safety, emissions and in some circumstances, anti-theft inspections as well as a few trips to the DMV and a helluva paper trail.

So what do you do in the event you see a car with a rebuilt of salvage title? Typically, keep searching for something else. However, if you really like the vehicle and don’t care about the title situation, here’s a few things you can do!

  1. Get It Inspected. It’s fine that you brought your dad, who had been working on cars since the enfamil days, but a proper inspection will offset worries of mechanical issues, let alone safety issues. 
  2. Have a Budget. If you see a car that has a Rebuilt/Salvage title, have a number in mind, just in case you have to do some more repairs. If the amount of repairs costs more than you want to spend, you know what to do.
  3. Finding insurance. Just understand that you might not get the prettiest policy. They insurance company probably wouldn’t want to take a monster risk on a car that has a Rebuilt/Salvage title.
  4. The process can be a pain. There’s going to be fees and paperwork to get the title. Like point number two, ask if it is worth it.
  5. Flood Damage. I wouldn’t take a huge risk on these. The last thing you want is an airbag to not deploy in an accident or an annoying chime due to corroded electronics.
  6. Price depends on buyer. As if you don’t get low balled with a car in perfect shape, imagine when you HAVE to disclose that the vehicle has a salvage title. Probably wouldn’t be ideal a quick flip.
  7. Lastly, is there really a deal here. If a similar car is priced a couple grand more, it might be easier to negotiate the price down, than go thru the process of buying a rebuilt/salvage car. Then again, if your planning on keeping the car, the title situation might be a key negotiation point.


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