Buy A Rebuilt Salvage Vehicle – Why You Don’t Want To

I agree, the average car buyer. However, if you know what you are getting into, a rebuilt car can be a great buy.

I do IT for one of the top BMW tuning shops in the area as a side gig. This shop purchases many written off BMWs. The vast majority of the rebuilt cars are driven by the owner, employees, or affiliates (like me). Basically it works like this.

2003 530i. 100kms amazing maintenance record etc.
Driver rear ends a SUV or other high bumpered vehicle.
Grill, hood, lights, radiator, one fender, etc all destroyed. Air bags are deployed.
Car is written off due to cost of repair being close to what the car is worth, not because it is structurally damaged.
Buy car as salvage for next to nothing, replace parts with genuine BMW used stuff.
Document every step. I have pics of the entire process from from it came in on a trailer to when it was finished.

I got the car for less than half what it would normally go for. Its a pretty spiffy winter car, and as a rebuild I don’t even care if it gets scratched/salted/snowed on.

Yes, and the point of the article is that you have to know what you are getting into. I have met a lot of people who think that rebuilt salvage vehicles are somehow certified as road worthy which is obviously not the case.

As has been iterated over and over again, it really depends on what caused the damage, how severe it was, and whether it would cause long term problems. 

My parents bought a salvage title 2005 Saab 9-2x hatchback with 13,000 miles on it in January of 2008 – we traded our problem ridden 2002 Passat 1.8T Estate on it. The only reason I let them proceed was that the damage and repairs had been documented in pictures, which the dealership had on hand. It had hit a pole in the left front end, and they replaced the hood, fender, wheel, wheel hub, bumper cover and drivers airbag. It had been repaired and certified by the state of Colorado. We got it for $8k after they gave us $5k trade in on the Passat. It just hit 100,000 miles a couple weeks ago and had its very first problem that required it to be sent to the shop (a leaky rear differential). The only noticeable appearance issue we had is that a couple spots of paint flaked off the lip of the hood, but since we live out in the country and rock chips are a thing, we never got it resprayed.

The hitch with buying a salvage title vehicle is that if you buy it, expect to keep it until the wheels fall off, because they can’t be traded in and it can be tricky to find a private buyer who’s willing to take a perceived ‘risk’. My dad tried to sell the 9-2x a couple times after we got my mom a low miled 2004 Forester XS in 2011, and we had no serious interest in it, so they wound up keeping it as a spare car. 

I would strongly consider buying a salvage title vehicle personally if it was exactly what I wanted, had either been repaired to factory spec/and or was a theft recovery or had hail damage, and it was something I intended on keeping for a long time.

And that is one of the two points of my article: The only way to know what the damage was to the vehicle is to have it inspected by a qualified person (or do it yourself if you are qualified). The other point is that many people do not know what “Rebuilt Salvage” means – at least based on the many many questions I have been asked about it. It may be different in other states (as I noted) but in MICH it does not certify that the car is safe to drive or that it was repaired to any particularly great standard.