There is no question that purchasing a salvage car can be a real bargain. However, there are those on the market that may have hidden dangers, making it somewhat of a risk to purchase.
Why are certain cars salvaged?
A salvage certificate or title is given in several different scenarios. Usually, it’s because the car has been severely damaged in a motor vehicle accident. You can assume that the insurance company has written these vehicles off because they determined that it is better to pay the car’s value to the owner than to pay for the car’s repairs.
However, there are other causes that determine when a car is salvaged that have nothing to do with a motor vehicle crash. If the car was affected by hail or flooding, it can be deemed a total loss. Also, if a car is stolen and the insurance company has already issued payment to its owner, it can become a salvage car.
Depending upon the circumstances, the condition of a salvage car can vary significantly, i.e., a stolen car can have little or no damage.
What happens to a car that is salvaged?
When an insurance company totals the vehicle, without paying for repairs and pays the owner, it then gets a salvage certificate for the vehicle. There are two possibilities that can happen to such a vehicle:
It retains a salvage certificate that prevents it from being registered, driven, or sold as-is but can be sold at auctions for car rebuilders or to salvage yards
It can be rebuilt and remarketed as a salvage vehicle. These cars must pass inspection and are issued a salvage title.
An example of a truly defective salvage car
In a car accident a couple of years ago, a young woman driving a 2002 Honda Accord was almost killed when her air bag deployed in a minor accident. Her trachea was punctured by shrapnel from an inflator. The air bag was one of the most dangerous recalled by Takata.
She had no idea of the car’s history, including that it had been wrecked in 2005 and declared a total loss. The car was given a salvage title, repaired and resold to her. Investigators found that the inflator in her air bag had been covered by a recall but the dangerous salvaged inflator taken from a 2001 Accord was never replaced. Somehow that inflator ended up in the 2002 Honda Accord the young woman purchased.
(At least 23 people have been killed by Takata inflators, and more than 180 injured, touching off the largest recall [approximately 69 million] in the U.S. alone. Millions of inflators may still be in use and unaccounted for.)
What is the law regarding salvage vehicles?
Every state has different laws pertaining to salvage cars. In many states, when such a vehicle is repaired to a roadworthy condition, it can be re-registered and driven.
For a full explanation of Wisconsin’s laws relating to salvage cars, the Department of Motor Vehicles has some very good information.
Unbelievable as it may seem, there are no federal laws governing the air bag assemblies or other parts subject to recall, to be pulled out of cars that have been totaled and sold by salvage yards to repair shops and then to car dealers. No one in this chain of purchasing would know the danger. There does not appear to be any laws forbidding the reuse of recalled vehicle parts.
Should you be suspicious of salvage cars?
The Center for Auto Safety says that people should be suspicious of cars with salvage titles because no one knows where the parts came from, or the quality of the repair work. Although some are safe, there’s no way to tell if counterfeit, damaged, recalled, or stolen parts have been used.
If you are thinking about buying a salvage car, make sure you check its crash history. There are several agencies that maintain a vehicle’s history, including the Department of Motor Vehicles and Carfax.
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