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· Registered
2007 Subaru Outback L.L. Bean
171 Posts
Hi there!

Retail cost for parts, and labor rates are very expensive. That means it doesn't take extensive damage to total one, depending on age/value/etc. If you're rebuilding the car yourself, and you have access to the tools, equipment, and parts to do the job right then you can have a quality salvage titled car for good money. Yes, that's a lot of qualifiers.

I've bought, fixed, and sold several salvage title cars. Depending on how it was damaged, it can be a good deal. My mother's '96 Lumina was a salvage title car because of hail damage. Dad and I do paint and bodywork, so it wasn't a big deal to fix. It was never wrecked.

My sister's Olds Alero came out of a Florida car lot from hurricane damage. The story is that the insurance adjuster came onto the car lot, started adding up damage until they hit a threshold, then totaled everything on the lot. Her car was inside for detailing when the storm hit. It had some damage from being hit be debris but not wrecked.

My ex-wife's '07 Malibu was hit lightly in the front. Dad and I fixed the damage with all new parts. I bought it for $4700, and had it on the road, including taxes and fees, for $8200. It listed for close to $11k at the time. That car was originally a rental car, as far as I can tell, and with 24,000 miles on it was due to be replaced by the rental car company anyway so I suspect they just wrote it off.

The most expensive part of fixing that Malibu was replacing the driver's side air bag (passenger air bag did not deploy), both front seat belts (they permanently lock in a collision as a safety feature but afterwards they must be replaced), the airbag controller (it cannot be re-used after a wreck, I assume to preserve black box data?). We did put it on a frame machine to make sure things were in the right place. They pulled the bumper horns at bit for us to get them back in spec. but it was otherwise in good shape.

The common thread here is that all of the salvage cars I've touched, I've been involved in their repair.

Personally I would be very cautious about buying a salvage car that had already been repaired unless I knew a lot about either the shop fixing it, or the extent of the repairs. If it was a light wreck, or something like hail damage, then that's not a big deal. If it was rolled, fire, or flood damaged, I'd walk away.
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