Christian Budgeting, Finances, Savings

Buying a Used Car: Watch Or Watch Out For Salvage Titles?

  • Published Nov 02, 2000
Buying a Used Car: Watch Or Watch Out For Salvage Titles?
No-Debt Living writer Rod Foss, recently encountered an additional factor regarding used car buying of which you should be aware. That element is the possibility of a salvage title.

By Rod Foss

When it comes to buying a car, the title is the "deed to the ranch." It shows a car's legal owner.

If a car has been "totaled" in an accident, the title usually will say so. A salvage title means someone bought or salvaged the wreck and repaired it for resale.

When you are out shopping for a used car and one catches your eye, ask to see the title. A salvaged car may look nice and even seem to run OK, but whether that car is a great buy or a bad risk depends on the kind of damage it suffered and the quality of repairs it received. To make that determination, seek out the advice of an honest, competent mechanic and/or auto body repairman.

So, where do they come from?

Generally, the kind of damage that disqualifies a salvaged car is any collision that bends or twists the frame or chassis. While certain machines can pull the frame straight again, many mechanics feel this type of car will never be the same, in spite of all the repairs.

On the other hand, an insurance company may choose to label a car "totaled" even though it is repairable.

Here's why that might occur. First, auto body repair is an expensive proposition. Second, most insurance companies have a formula stating: if the cost to repair a vehicle, plus the salvage value of the wreckage, exceeds the car's fair market value, the car is totaled. In other words, it sometimes is cheaper for an insurance company to buy their client a replacement car and sell the wreckage, than it is to repair a vehicle.

When a car is totaled, an insurance company will sell the wreckage for about 20 percent to 30 percent of the car's current market value. So, if a salvage or repair shop does a top-notch job of restoring a car to its previous condition, you might take home a good vehicle at a sweet price.

Some are worth it

Several months ago I was shopping for a newer pickup truck that met my needs and pocket book. While looking, I stumbled across a late-model Toyota pickup truck with just over 6,000 original miles and with a low price tag. I wasn't looking for a salvaged vehicle, but having inspected and driven it, I didn't panic when I saw the title. Instead, I took it to my mechanic, who gave it a clean bill of health.

As a result, I paid a price that was more than $1,000 below the low Blue Book rate.

That doesn't mean that every salvage car out there is worth buying. In fact, some are worth running from. Buyers need to remember to approach any salvage car warily, no matter how good it looks. If your mechanic says stay away from it, listen! But if the car passes a thorough inspection, give it consideration.

In my case, I am thankful to God that He guided my steps. In addition, He revealed a humbling metaphor: That God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, has salvaged the wreckage of our lives and has made us brand new.

For more car buying and money-saving ideas visit No-Debt Living,, where you can view more than 100 valuable articles and resources on financial, consumer and time-management news with a Christian perspective. Reprinted with permission from No-Debt Living. Copyright 2000 No-Debt Living. Rod Foss is a regular contributor to No-Debt Living.

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