Is It Dangerous to Drive a Car with a Rebuilt or Salvage Title?

by Staff | October 5th, 2020

Buying a new vehicle, whether it’s fresh off the assembly line or just new to you, has never been more expensive. The average new car price is anywhere from $33,000 to $38,000, and used vehicles are commanding higher and higher prices, including those that are more than a decade old with hundreds of thousands of miles.

If you’re looking for a deal on a vehicle—especially if you use online classified websites—you may be tempted to buy one with a rebuilt or salvage title, as the prices can be extremely attractive and affordable. However, you also may have seen many warnings about such vehicles due to their reputation for being unreliable and potentially unsafe.

Although we don’t handle claims involving title disputes or changes in vehicle title status, we believe it’s important for all drivers to understand the differences in titles and what they can expect when they purchase used vehicles.

What Are Clean, Rebuilt, and Salvage Titles?

When considering whether it’s worthwhile or even safe to purchase a vehicle with anything less than a “clean” title, it’s first important to clarify what the types of vehicle titles mean.

  • Clean title—When a vehicle has a “clean” title, that means it is free of major accidents, tampering (odometer fraud), or a major safety recall that involved the vehicle being sent back to its manufacturer. Note that vehicles can be involved in minor fender benders, have received modifications, and even be the subject of minor recalls and still retain clean titles.
  • Salvage title—When a vehicle has been seriously damaged in an accident and declared a total loss (“totaled”) by the insurance company, its title will change to a salvage title. “Totaled” vehicles can range from ones that are damaged almost beyond recognition to those that appear to be in good shape, but that sustained enough damage that it’s not worth repairing them.
  • Rebuilt title—When a vehicle was damaged enough to be considered “totaled” or to receive a salvage title, it may not be destined for the junkyard or scrapyard. Salvage vehicles can be repaired and restored to drivable condition. When that happens, they are assigned rebuilt titles after an inspection process.

Modern vehicles are designed to withstand damage in crashes to protect occupants, but that doesn’t mean they’re designed to be driven afterward. Depending on the type and amount of damage, vehicles may sustain only cosmetic damage—or they may incur damage that puts drivers and passengers at significant risk of injuries during subsequent crashes.

Rebuilt and Salvage Vehicles Aren’t Always Unsafe

As a car buyer, you’re undoubtedly concerned about safety and reliability, and that makes buying a vehicle with a clean title a much surer bet than one with a salvage or rebuilt title. However, buying a vehicle with a non-clean title doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll be stuck with an unsafe, non-functional car.

Some vehicles with salvage titles may have sustained only moderate amounts of damage and could be repaired to “like new” condition for less money than it would cost to buy a similar model with a clean title. Similarly, some vehicles with rebuilt titles have already had the work done and may be perfectly safe and drivable, with their only repairs consisting of mostly cosmetic body work.

Do Your Homework Before Making a Decision

If you’re considering a salvage or rebuilt vehicle, get its VIN to run a vehicle history report. This information will help you determine the severity of the damage. Stay away from vehicles that were damaged in floods or submerged in water, as they may have significant unseen damage.

In addition, ask for receipts, invoices, or service records pertaining to the accident. If the vehicle was heavily damaged, including any damage to its frame or other vital safety components, it may not be worth the risk, regardless of how attractive the price is.

Finally, remember that vehicles with rebuilt titles receive those after varying levels of inspection and certification. Some may be heavily scrutinized, while others may be upgraded from “salvage” with barely a glance, putting potential buyers—i.e., you—at risk. In addition, remember that insuring a vehicle with a rebuilt title may be more expensive, and some insurers may refuse to cover it, period.

When Crashes Happen, We’re Here to Help

Whether a vehicle is barely street legal due to damage, or it’s a brand-new ride loaded with safety features and technology, a crash can always occur when its driver least expects it. And when crashes occur, it’s our job to help the victims get the compensation they’re owed.

If you or someone you love was hurt in a crash, contact the Indiana auto accident lawyers at Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin today. We want to help you get the compensation you’re owed.

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