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7 Reasons a Car May Become a Salvage Vehicle

If you are in the market for a salvage title car but are unsure of why the car is salvage, then you’ve come to the right place.

Many people are taken in with the idea of getting a car for cheap, and as salvage cars cost significantly less than used cars, it’s easy to see why so many people would be interested in buying one. While finding the perfect salvage car for cheap may seem like a dream come true, there can be downsides and risks to buying a car with a salvage title.

While you may see the salvage title and assume the car is beyond repair, this is not always the case. Depending on the state regulations, some very minor issues can warrant a salvage title. Many cars sold with a salvage title or repaired salvage title are safe and run just fine.

This is not always the case, of course, and you should always proceed with cause when a salvage title comes into the mix.

Whether you own a salvage car, are looking to buy one, or want to make a little extra cash selling one, it is vital to know why cars become salvage in the first place. Knowing the reason for the salvage title can be the difference between buying, selling, or scrapping a car.

Why a Car May Become Salvaged

Have you ever wondered what constitutes salvage? What defines one damaged car as salvage and another as not? Are there common reasons a car may become a salvage?

To answer all those questions and more, take a look at the seven common reasons a car may become a salvage vehicle.

1. Accident or Collisions

Major accidents and collisions are a sure way to turn any car into a salvage vehicle. In essence, once the insurance company deems it a salvage vehicle, it’s game over.

While the regulations vary from company to company and state to state, most states consider any car that requires 75% or more of its cash value in repairs to be a salvage vehicle. In short, if the cost of repairing a car is more than the car is worth or more than the price of a new car, it will be a write-off.

Following a major accident or collision in which your car is in a totaled state, your insurance company may issue the car a salvage title. The salvage title is mostly a consideration for the buyer. It shows that the vehicle in question has extensive damage, and when selling the car it needs to be disclosed legally.

Additionally, insurance providers are more likely to declare older cars as salvage vehicles. If the value of the car is lower to begin with, then the cost of repairs is less likely to be worth the price. New, high-end cars have a higher chance of being repaired unless they are completely totaled.

2. Natural Disaster

Natural disasters and severe weather damage are fast ways to take a normal car and turn it into a salvage vehicle. Nature is not a force to be reckoned with. Between tornadoes, floods, hail, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and more, it is easy to see how so many cars get wrecked by weather.

Let’s break down some of these damage-inducing weather patterns and look at how exactly they turn a regular vehicle into as much scrap.

Tornadoes are fairly self-explanatory. They can hurl debris at your car until it’s flattened or pick it up and toss it into a house. There’s no coming back from having to extract your vehicle from someone’s roof.

Floods are equally damaging as prolonged exposure to water will ruin almost every part of your car. Rust, mold, and ruined upholstery are just a few of the things you could be dealing with after a flood.

Hail can leave your car looking like a target at a shooting range. While most of the damage may be surface level, it can be so extensive that the cost of repairs is just not worth it.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis combine the worst of the above. High winds, flooding, flying debris, and – in the case of earthquakes – sinkholes are a one-stop shop to a salvage title.

3. Fire

Between forest fires, mountain burn-outs, and riots, there are many ways you may find your car left as nothing but a smoking frame.

Anyone who has seen the news in the last few years or lives in California knows just how common forest fires are becoming. If it hasn’t happened yet, you may one day find that your car is a victim of these rampant demolitionists.

While forest fires are unpredictable and hard to prepare for, overstressing your car can cause fires as well. If you’ve ever driven up a steep mountain, you’ve probably seen blackened patches on the side of the road or maybe even an active car fire. 

Pushing a car too hard can cause the engine to overheat and catch fire. In secluded areas like mountains, there is no way to put out a fire other than wait for it to burn itself out.

Another common cause of car fires that people rarely consider is riots. We’ve all seen videos of rioters rolling cars and lighting them on fire, but have you ever stopped to consider who those cars belong to? Because of the tumultuous situation riots cause, emergency crews have a hard time getting to and putting out car fires.

If the damage is extensive enough, the vehicle will be declared a salvage title.

4. Stolen and Later Recovered

If a car is stolen and later recovered, it could end up as a salvage vehicle for several reasons.

The most glaring reason is damage. If the thieves did not treat the car well, it could have enough damage to count it as a salvage vehicle right off the bat.

Another common reason a recovered car may become a salvage is if it has been scrapped for parts. Between the less-than-professional part removal and the missing items, the cost of repairs may be too high to bother with.

The most likely reason a stolen or recovered car may have a salvage title is that it has been missing long enough for the insurance company to write it off. Regardless of if there is damage to the car, the insurance company has already paid to replace it. This is one of the most straightforward cases to get the salvage title changed.

5. Too Many Modifications

There are several reasons a modded car may be subject to a salvage title. For starters, because most of the components are aftermarket parts, they do not fall under the initial maker's guidelines. Regardless of if they are up to code, they are not the original parts, and therefore the insurance cannot be the same.

Additionally, there is no guarantee that the parts are high-quality, up to regulations, or even fit the car. Insurance providers don’t like to take chances, and heavily modded cars are a huge risk. While this may seem like a good deal to the buyer – a cheap car with unique parts – insurance agencies charge a premium for insuring such vehicles.

A modified car poses risks to both the buyer and the insurance provider. More safety and stability risks come with modified vehicles. This stipulation can apply to one-of-a-kind custom builds and repaired cars alike. If you went to the trouble of replacing the engine after a crash with aftermarket parts, you might find that no one will insure it.

6. Kit Car

Kit cars are a mishmash of parts that make insurance providers’ lives hard. Made from individually sourced parts rather than a ready-made set, kit cars are custom rings. You can’t walk into a dealership and ask for that car but in pieces.

Kit cars are often customized by the builder to be flashy, fast, loud, or to emulate a classic model. While there is nothing to worry about in a properly registered and licensed kit car, ones with a salvage title or no title can be worrisome.

Parts not properly accounted for are common issues kit cars face. If there are parts of unknown origin, suspicion rises of them being stolen or otherwise illegally acquired.

Insurance agencies detest the unknown, and if any parts do not have a traceable history, they will likely not insure the car.

A similar issue that may arise is that there is no way of knowing if they build the car correctly. Is the person who made it a professional or hobbyist? Have they built other vehicles before? Did they do all the work themselves or have someone else make additions or adjustments?

Technically speaking, all the parts in a kit car are aftermarket parts and on their demand a salvage label. Kit cars are a tricky subject, and you need to be sure they have all the paperwork and registrations before buying, or an insurance company won’t go near it.

7. Vandalism

This may happen during a riot or just due to neighborhood kids. Many insurance providers will write off a car as salvage if the cost of repairs is too high.

Types of vandalism include fire, rolling the car, spray paint, and other body damage. While things like slashed tires are vandalism, it does not damage the actual vehicle. In the case of a fire, it will likely be labeled as fire salvage or simply salvage because there is no specific title for vandalism salvage in most states.

Rolling or flipping the car as an act of vandalism can grant it the salvage title. If the roof has caved in, the body is heavily damaged, or if the cost of repairs is just too high, then it will likely become salvage. If the car just flipped, the repair is possible; however, if someone were to roll it down a hill or cause it to tumble, it is beyond help.

Surface-level body damage like spray pain may seem an easy fix; however, repainting a car can be expensive. You may need entirely new tires, side view mirrors, windows, and a windshield as well. Insurance companies often can’t be bothered with the cost of these repairs.

Insurance may declare it totaled if repair and repaint work would be too costly.

Can You Repair a Salvage Vehicle?

You may be thinking that some of the reasons a car may be declared a salvage title don’t seem that bad, and in many cases, you’d be right. Often just because a car is declared salvage doesn’t mean it can’t be saved.

While totaled cars are a write-off, if the damage is minimal you can have the car repaired. The process to remove the salvage title, however, can be a lengthy and arduous process. The inspector has to check all the receipts for new parts, and it may need to undergo numerous rigorous inspections before it is declared street legal.

After the inspections, they declare the car a rebuilt salvage. It will never be able to forgo the rebuilt salvage title, and the insurance on it will likely go up.

Additionally, when buying a salvage or rebuilt salvage car, be sure to get all the paperwork. It may look fine on the outside but still have damage internally.

Wrapping Up

While there are many ways a car may become a salvage vehicle, including accidents, natural disasters, fire, theft, modifications, home builds, and vandalism, the vital thing to remember is why. Most cases of salvage vehicles come down to money. If the cost of repairs is more expensive than the value of the car or the cost of replacing it, then it will likely be deemed a salvage.

Salvage titles are not the end of the world. You can buy and sell salvage vehicles and repair them to gain a repaired salvage title. While many insurance companies won’t insure salvage vehicles, you can still make money by selling them for parts and scraps.

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