By: Sarah E. Sanuth, an insider in the automotive industry  with many years of experience in the car dealership and repair business

When searching for a used vehicle, we are all on the alert for those that have been in major accidents, have had flood damage, or are branded “salvage.” We automatically assume the worst of these vehicles. Any vehicle that has been flood damaged should be avoided, because water and electrical components don’t mix and are very expensive to fix. But “salvage” vehicles are a different story altogether, and could save you a lot of money.

Many salvage vehicles don’t have major mechanical damage, but rather the bulk of the damage is body, or cosmetic. There are salvage dealers, who are licensed by the state, which will sell these vehicles before and after they are repaired.

There is a specific process for repairing a vehicle that is considered a total loss before it can be considered safe and is quite time consuming. The following outlines the process of becoming a repaired “salvage” vehicle.

  • The vehicle needs to be deemed a total loss by an insurance company. Many times when an insurance company classifies a vehicle as a total loss, it is quite repairable. They use the overall cost to repair the vehicle as a determining factor in comparison to the overall value.
  • The vehicle then needs to be purchased for “salvage value.” Insurance companies will give the owner, or the lien holder, the option of purchasing the vehicle for this value, which can be between $50-500. If neither purchases it, it is usually sold to a salvage dealer.
  • From there, the vehicle is brought to a repair facility for a full estimate. The technician/mechanic has to completely run through the entire vehicle and find everything that is wrong with it.
  • All the parts the vehicles needs are ordered and the vehicle is repaired.
  • The vehicle then needs to be inspected by the State Police. Usually each state has set up dates and locations where these inspections can take place. All documentation for the repair needs to be submitted with the vehicle.
  • The State Police then go through the entire vehicle to ensure that it has been repaired correctly and safely, and that every part that has been put into the vehicle was purchased, not stolen.

Once this has all taken place, the state will allow the vehicle to be registered and re-titled. For a vehicle like this, there are two great advantages:

  1. The vehicle is usually in better condition than a vehicle that hasn’t been in this kind of accident. This is because the mechanic is licensed by the state, and now the state is reviewing their work; and if something is wrong, they could have their license suspended or lost altogether.
  2. Whether a mechanic does the work before you purchase the vehicle, or you have it done after the fact, you will save a lot of money. Repair facilities will give discounts when a large amount of work is done like this.

So the next time you want a great vehicle, and come across one that is salvage, don’t be afraid of it; you will be getting a great vehicle and saving a lot of money at the same time.  Of course, make sure you do your due diligence and have it inspected by professional mechanic.  For information and tips on the inspection process, see checklist for used car inspection and test driving a used car.

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