Every car has a title when it comes off the dealer lot for the first time. Titles may change over time, depending on the circumstances of a given car. Rarely does a car end up with no title at all. That said, one of the more interesting title types is the salvage title. Salvage titles are usually issued after a car has been extensively damaged. So the next question is whether or not a salvage title car is safe to buy.
That depends on how you define safe. If you’re looking at it from the perspective of road safety, probably not. But if your angle is one of financial investment, perhaps. Sit tight while we offer an explanation.
A salvage title is automatically issued – in most states, anyway – after an insurance company, car dealer, or other entity reports extensive damage to state authorities. A salvage title designates a car as being unsafe to drive. There may be extensive frame damage. Perhaps the brakes don’t work. Whatever the case, the damage is so extensive that the car has to either be salvaged for parts or rebuilt.
For this reason, a car with a salvage title cannot be legally registered for road use. It is simply unsafe to drive. Its owner can send it to the scrapyard, strip it for parts, or invest the time and money necessary to make the car roadworthy once again. For the record, rebuilding a salvage title car isn’t for the faint of heart.
Some states allow exceptions to the rule. In other words, they may issue salvage titles to cars that have been extensively damaged but aren’t necessarily unsafe. A good example would be a flood-damaged car. Flooding hasn’t harmed the car structurally or mechanically. But it has made the car too expensive to repair, so the insurance company just totaled it.
Other exceptions include smoke damage, hail damage, or scenarios in which a stolen car was ultimately recovered after the insurance company paid the customer’s claim. The car is only a salvage vehicle because the insurance company has no useful purpose for it.
So, is it safe to buy a salvage title car? That depends on why it has a salvage title and what you intend to do with it. About the only scenario that would suggest buying a salvaged car without hesitation would be the theft scenario. The possibility of getting a great deal on a car with very little damage is pretty appealing.
Unfortunately, most salvage titles are issued because the cars they apply to are damaged. It doesn’t make sense to purchase a car to drive if you don’t have the time and money to put into repairs. So in such cases, assume the car is not safe to buy. Just walk away and pretend you never saw it.
If you’re looking to make money on a salvage title car, how do you plan to do it? Stripping it for parts could bring in a fair amount if the parts themselves are in high demand. You may not make money on an old Mopar vehicle, but there’s probably money to be made with a newer Honda.
Finally, it’s only safe to buy a salvage title car for rebuild if you have a plan in place to do the rebuild right. You either have to know what you’re doing yourself or hire someone else who does. Otherwise, anyone who might drive the car in the future could be facing serious safety issues.