As you scroll through the used car listings, you come across the deal of the century: your perfect car, with all of the options you want, for thousands of dollars less than you've been able to find anywhere else. It's the perfect car, or so it seems.
By looking at the photos, you see that everything looks in order, with a beautiful interior, nice shiny paint, perfectly straight body panels. But in the description, it says the vehicle has a "salvage title" and that the damage was "purely cosmetic" and was all fixed properly by a reputable shop.
Buying a car with a salvage title may save you thousands up front, but it potentially could end up being a total waste of money. We made a list of five reasons you should view every salvage title car as wrapped in caution tape.
"Salvage" translates to "totaled". Most salvage title cars on the used market earned that distinction because something bad happened to them (storm damage, accident, flood, etc.) that caused an insurance company to declare them worth less than the cost of repair, which means it was "totaled".
Most of the bad things that can happen to a car resulting in a salvage title can also result in long-term issues:
You won't want to deal with these issues as an owner. Some cars with clean titles may have similar histories that just weren't reported, so be sure to get your car inspected by a trusted mechanic.
If you're looking to buy a used car, it's probably because you want or need new transportation, not a lawn ornament. Sadly, it's often difficult to find an insurance company willing to insure a salvage title car.
Without insurance, you'll never legally drive it on the street. Those companies that will insure a salvage title car will charge extra for the service, quickly eating away any initial savings in buying the once-totaled car in the first place.
Even if you find a salvage title car that isn't a safety disaster, and you can find some insurance for it, chances aren't good that you'll find a bank willing to loan you the money to buy it, for all of the same reasons.
Salvage title cars are risky bets, not just for owners, but for insurers and lenders. Most won't even consider them, and those that will consider could charge a steep premium.
While many used cars will be eligible for a warranty after purchase, don't expect one with a salvage title car. Why? For the same reasons you probably won't be able to get insurance or financing: salvage title cars are unknown quantities.
You may find a rare gem that really is only technically a salvage vehicle, but it's much more likely that you'll be getting much more trouble than you bargained for.
All of those previous reasons for being cautious of buying a salvage title car add up to a poor resale value. Salvage title cars are simply harder to sell, likely because of what we listed.
Sure, you might not be thinking about how much you can sell your newfound bargain for when you're buying it, but how much cash you can get back out on the other end of your ownership plays a direct role in how much it actually costs to own and operate the car over time.
The money you're saving buying a salvage title car is money you'll lose (in comparison to similar cars with clean titles) several years down the road, in repairs or insurance costs.
automotive freelance journalist