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Salvage Title Cars


Millions of vehicles in the United States each year are deemed salvage. Over the last five years, the number of salvage title cars on the market has increased nationwide by more than 50 percent. Many of these cars are rebuilt and sold, often by sellers who fail to disclose or even try to hide the salvage-auto information. CARFAX helps consumers protect themselves from unknowingly buying salvage-cars for sale.

Vehicle Salvage Titles

A salvage vehicle is a vehicle that has been issued a salvage title by a state motor vehicle agency. A salvage title may indicate that a vehicle is not road worthy after being damaged in an accident, flood, fire, or other event. In many states, a salvage title is issued when a vehicle is damaged to the extent that the cost of repairing the vehicle exceeds 75% of its pre-damage value. This damage threshold may vary by state.

Sometimes, but not always, vehicles that have been declared as total losses by insurance companies are also issued salvage titles. Insurance companies often have different criteria than motor vehicle agencies for determining if a vehicle is totaled.

A salvage title does not always indicate that a vehicle was wrecked. In some states, a salvage title may indicate that a vehicle was stolen. These states include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma and Oregon.

Some states do not require salvage titles for older vehicles. For example, a state may assign a salvage title to an older-model vehicle only by request from the vehicle owner. The vehicle age and weight are two factors that may be used by the state to determine if a vehicle model is older or newer.

Salvage Title Fraud

The seller should disclose if a vehicle has a salvage title. In some states disclosure is required by law. Unfortunately, salvage titles are not always revealed. Every year, thousands of salvage cars are sold to unsuspecting buyers, and in the process, returned to the roads without proper repair. Sellers can alter title documents and make cheap cosmetic repairs to salvaged vehicles to make the vehicles look sound on paper and in person.

A common scam associated with salvaged vehicles is title washing. In title washing, a seller moves a vehicle to a state that has looser title laws and then registers the vehicle in that state. Depending on that state's title laws, the state may not indicate that the vehicle ever had a salvage title. In a title washing scam, the seller may register the vehicle in multiple states until the salvage brand is removed from the title.

Car clipping is another problem associated with salvaged vehicles. In car clipping, two wrecked vehicles are literally sawed apart and then the ends of the separate vehicles are welded together. For example, the front end of one salvage vehicle may be welded on to the back end of another vehicle. Clipped vehicles can be difficult for the average used car shopper to detect.

Rebuilt Salvage Titles

Salvage vehicles that are properly repaired or restored can be returned to the road legally and safely. Many states require that a vehicle pass an inspection to determine if the vehicle is roadworthy. Vehicles that pass this inspection are issued rebuilt titles by many states. The inspection process may differ from state to state. Some states also require that the owner provide receipts for component parts that were used in the restoration process.

Buying a salvage vehicle may not be a bad investment, although we recommend that before you buy a salvage car you understand the prior damage that resulted in the salvage title being issued. If you are considering buying a car with a rebuilt salvage title, we recommend that you make sure the proper repairs were made. You may want to request copies of receipts for the repair work and even speak with the mechanic who repaired the vehicle.

Protect Yourself from Salvage Title Fraud

To determine if a vehicle that you are considering buying has a salvage title, ask the seller to show you the title document. Look for wording on the title that indicates a salvage title. The wording can vary from state to state. If the words totaled, reconditioned, salvaged, junked, rebuilt, or warranty returned appear on the title, then it is a salvage vehicle. In some states, salvage titles are printed on different color paper than non-branded titles.

If the title does not indicate salvage, examine the title document to see if it has been physically altered. If the title looks like it has been altered in any way, beware.

We also recommend that you order a CARFAX® Vehicle History Report™. CARFAX receives vehicle history information from every U.S. and Canadian provincial motor vehicle agency and guarantees to indicate if a vehicle has a salvage title. A CARFAX Report may also indicate if a vehicle has been declared a total loss by an insurance company, even if a salvage title was not issued by a state motor vehicle agency.

In addition to getting the CARFAX Report before you buy a car, we recommend that you take a test drive and have the car inspected by a qualified mechanic.

For information on salvage titles laws in your state, contact your local motor vehicle agency.