What is a Salvage Title?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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A salvage title is a different designation that a state applies to the vehicle when it has been previously damaged. The state requires the vehicle owner to allow the state Department of Motor Vehicles to add an official “salvage” disclaimer to the title of the vehicle. Buyers or others can look at the title, and see that the vehicle has been previously damaged.

A salvage title, also called a “junk title,” applies to a vehicle when it has been wrecked, or otherwise damaged beyond the cost of reasonable repair. Insurance companies often declare a vehicle as a “total-loss claim” where the costs of repairs exceed the market value of the vehicle. The insurance company weighs the pre-accident market value of the vehicle against the costs of repair. If the repairs cost more than the value of the car, it’s not in the insurance company’s interest to pay for the repairs. The company will declare the vehicle a loss and write a check for its value.


Because of the high market costs of fixing different kinds of auto damage, including cosmetic or body damage, it’s easy for a vehicle to be declared a total loss and yet still be a functional vehicle. When this happens, a salvage vehicle may be re-sold, providing the buyer is made aware of the salvage status. It can be difficult to get auto insurance for a car or other vehicle with a salvage title. Financing and other aspects of sale and use can also be problematic, which is why lots of auto experts advise against buying a salvage title vehicle.

Wrecks are not the only reason that a vehicle may carry a salvage title. Fire and flood can also result in damage to a vehicle that will make it a total loss to an insurance company. Buyers of salvage vehicles should do research to figure out exactly why the vehicle carries a salvage title. Nevertheless, for the right buyer, who may want the car for parts, or for driving on private property, a salvage car can be great deal.

Besides the extra steps involved in buying a salvage title vehicle, a state may have its own laws about registration for a previously damaged car or truck. Buyers are encouraged to consult their state Department of Motor Vehicles before getting involved in the sale of vehicles with salvage titles. Sellers should notify the buyer that a specific vehicle carries a salvage title, and explain some of the risks of buying this vehicle for personal transportation.


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Post 5

yes, I was going to mention that the frame/chassis inspection is critical. A damaged frame can cause a lot of problems that won't be evident at first.

Post 4

generally, it seems that those who benefit most from buying salvage title vehicles are people with advanced knowledge of auto mechanics. when buying the salvage vehicle, it's important to check it out thoroughly for damage, or even take it to a shop for a pre-purchase inspection if possible. also call insurance companies before buying to make sure you can get insurance, especially for a teen driver.

Post 3

@googie98- You can also get a qualified inspection on the vehicle. You need a mechanical inspection and a frame inspection. The frame inspection is very important and can prevent major costs later on.

When considering purchasing a salvage vehicle, you really have to weigh the savings vs. the future costs that you may incur. It may seem like a great deal now but later on, it can cost you a lot of money.

Personally, I purchased a Nissan with a salvage title two years ago. The reason that it had a salvage title was that it had flood damage on the interior. I spent $750 fixing it up and it is now in perfect condition. It was a great purchase.

Post 2

@googie98 - Most of the time, having a salvage title means that the vehicle has sustained damage totaling at least 75 percent of its value. It is important to understand exactly what it means to have a salvage title before thinking about purchasing one.

Many people buy salvage vehicles because of the discounted price. For some, they get a great deal and never have any further problems. For others, it is a disaster. One thing that you can do before buying a salvage vehicle is get a CarFax report. These reports can be very useful and provide a lot of information about the vehicle’s damage history.

Post 1

We are looking to buy my teenage daughter a car. However, we do not have a lot of money to spend. I know that vehicles with salvage titles are generally a lot cheaper. My husband says we should avoid them but I think that we might better afford a car by going that route. Are there any tips for buying salvage vehicles without getting more than I bargained for?

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