Craigslist: Beware Salvage Title Vehicles

February 28, 2011

One of the most common questions I’m asked about from those buying cars on Craigslist—or any other online classified website—is what’s up with all the cars with salvage titles for sale? Are they a good buy? Should they even be considered?

The short answers are no and no.

What is a Salvage Title

When an insurance writes off a vehicle—effectively saying that after an accident it will cost more to fix than its worth—the DMV issues a special “salvage title” to make sure no one buys it without knowing its history.

By the way, this is another reason I counsel used car buyers to never buy a car, truck, or SUV without first checking its vehicle history report (see AutoCheck.com or Carfax.com). Salvage titles are just one issue that can be readily identified with such reports.

Yet, when I’m checking out cars for sale on Craigslist I’m always running into vehicles with salvage titles. Some sellers disclose upfront. Others are sneaky and don’t tell me until I’m very interested in the car. Others try to convince me that the vehicle was just in a fender-bender and there was no serious damage.

The only way to confirm their story is to take the vehicle to a savvy mechanic who is familiar with what to look for in damaged vehicles. However, even then you’re running a risk. Is there hidden damage that can’t be seen? Were the damages improperly repaired? Were substandard parts used?

You should also know that your insurance company may not even be willing to issue a new policy on a vehicle with a salvage title.

There are other concerns. Can you pay for the vehicle with cash? Banks, credit unions, and online lenders all have different policies concerning vehicles with salvage titles. Getting a car loan on the one you’re looking at may not be possible.

Besides all that, the insurance company would not have written the vehicle off if the damage was not more than what the vehicle was worth—or very close to it. Either way, as an ex-Internet Manager for a major car dealer, I won’t take the risk and even consider a vehicle with a salvage title for myself. I counsel my friends to walk away from these unique vehicles, as well.  After all, they were written off and issued a “salvage title” for a reason.

In my opinion, it's risky enough buying a used vehicle. It's better to pay more for one that doesn't have so many problems to begin with.

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