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How to Buy Salvage Cars, Cheap

Dennis Burda
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September 22, 2008

I almost always buy salvage cars. If you are handy, you can save a lot of money by fixing them yourself. http://blrepairables.com (buys east coast rust free cars with lower miles) and http://www.interstateautocenter.com/prepage.cfm are two places I use. I live in Minnesota so you would have to do a search in your area (repairable cars) on line.

Most cars are totaled because parts and labor exceed 40% of the value for a car using new OEM (original equipment manufactured parts). Buying used and aftermarket parts are less expensive from aftermarket parts stores, salvage yards (http://www.car-part.com/index.htm) or Ebay. Most repairs are sheet metal replacements, windshields and air bags.

I watch the lot and see which ones are there more than 30 days. Dealers will deal unless it is such a good deal that it sells right away. (Lost a few of those) I would stay away from flood cars because they have problems in a few years. I stay with cars like Buick's, Ford Taurus and Caravans. Parts are cheap and easy to find even in color, but other makes can be deals also.

I haven't tried it yet, but insurance salvage is selling on line. The car is wrecked and sitting at a towing lot. They have pictures and start bidding on line (5days) where the car is located. It is cheaper for the insurance company as the buyer is responsible for towing and storage charges when he picks up the car. It eliminates the middleman and good for the company and buyer.

Look under the car for possible damage in shipping or loading or in the accident. It may have landed on a rock. Damaged exhaust, suspension, or hole in the pan, can add a lot of extra cost if you don't know it in advance. Luxury cars may be expensive if you have to buy dealer parts. Aftermarket parts are not available, but maybe a great buy if parts are available in a salvage yard. Check for used parts before buying.

Theft recoveries can be very good deals. Often it's the interior and windows that have damage caused by vandalism. Whole interiors are available at salvage yards, cheap. Salvage yards sell few interiors. An interior can be even cheaper if you are willing to remove it yourself.

When buying salvage or a repairable, keep the same things in mind that Dr. North recommends for buying used cars.


If they are not drivable, sometimes towing is negotiable. Towing companies do not like empty trucks. If they can make $100 by picking up a car on the way back from a tow, they will do it, if it's not too far out of their way and you're not in a rush.

Ask the repairable lot to get the car running for you before you make an offer. If the car's alarm system has been cut, it's harder to diagnose why it won't start. Ask if they think it needs a frame pull. Most honest places will tell you. This helps align parts for fit.

You can save money at body shops by shopping around (estimates) before you buy. Tell them what your doing (fixing a repairable). They will do this type of work in between insurance jobs, but you do the parts running and detailing. Check the car you want to buy for damage; write down what it needs, the cost for parts, painting, towing, framework and labor not done by you. Low Book value, minus initial cost, plus parts and labor, equals savings. www.kbb.com www.edmunds.com Not all repairables will save you money, so count the cost. If a dealer sells a repairable and makes money, you can fix one up and save even more.

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