New or Used? : Should I Salvage My Shady Tree?

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
new or used should i salvage my shady tree

When I peruse the websites of some of my local yards, it seems like some of these cars have very little damage but some insurance adjuster has written them off based on whatever metric the company uses.

I’m an experienced shadetree mechanic and it seems like getting a 3-4 year old car for 30% of its original MSRP would be a screaming deal, and since warranty coverage is no longer an issue, it comes down to diminished value on the salvage title. I tend to keep my cars for 8-10 years so who cares.

Here’s where my doubts creep in.

If it was such a great idea, I would have surely read more about it. In the case of this one nearby yard, they have a huge collision repair facility. So why aren’t they repairing and flipping these cars? Googling doesn’t provide a whole lot on the pros and cons, just on the procedural aspects.

Any experience or stories ?

Steve Says:

Plenty of them.

This past storm through Atlanta recently totaled two of my financed vehicles, and late last year, I had two others that succumbed to the laws of physics.

The best way I can answer your answer is by working backwards by starting with older salvage vehicles first.

If you are looking for the best deal on a salvage vehicle in terms of daily transportation, it’s going to typically be the older, unloved, unpopular vehicle that merely has cosmetic damage.

A 10 year old Saturn with the rear bumper bashed in.

The older SAAB that was well kept, but was hit in that precise point on the front quarter that would require the removal and repainting of the hood, front bumper, and quarter panel if it were brought up to spec.

There are a lot of used cars that are totaled which fit this description. Minivans that don’t have good leather seats or automatic doors. Sitckshifts in non-sporty vehicles. Unloved older SUV’s, orphaned brands, and of course, station wagons.

The exact same types of vehicles that are unpopular and obscure to the non-enthusiast, are those that can provide the best bang for the buck for the shadetree frugalist who wants to explorer the salvage side of the business.

You have to still do all the homework you regularly do when buying a clean title vehicle. It is essential to go and inspect the vehicle in person and figure out the history. Even with doing all that, the buyer fees will negate much of the advantage you supposedly may have.

Plus, there is that one annoying fact with salvage vehicles. They can often have hidden surprises.

If you are serious about doing this, make sure you have easy access to a spare inoperable car that can be used as a reasonably cheap source for parts.

As for the late model vehicle? Don’t even try. The most popular ones are often shipped overseas where the local markets offer a far greater tolerance for substandard repairs, and where the labor rates are a small fraction of those in the United States.

The price of used cars is also far higher in the majority of countries outside the United States. We are known as a “high-content” market which means that many models that appear to have low to mid-level features are considered loaded vehicles in those overseas markets. The exporters can often buy higher than most others, with a few experienced rebuilders who have the resources and know-how to turn over higher end inventory.

My advice to you is to start small. Heck, you can take two unpopular Craigslist vehicles and make them into one with parts to spare. Or just visit a nearby used car dealership or title pawn company and tell them that you would be interested in buying their inop vehicles.

Specialize in a type of car and who knows? You may find yourself profiting from experience. Just don’t expect a $2000 lick every time you sell a salvage car. The market demand will likely be limited to hardcore enthusiasts and frugalists.

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  • Andy D Andy D on Feb 15, 2014

    My car is an 88 528e. IT had 117k verified. For this car, that is nothing. It had not fared well with its 3rd owner, a high school senior. Worse the car had been "fixed " once before. I paid 550$ for it and drove it home. There was nothing mechanically wrong the car. I had a parts car with the same paint. I had the parts to replace the tweaked parts, just a sawzall cut away. At the time, '07, A 10 yr old vehicle is exempt from a salvage title. IDK if this is still the case in MA. It was a learning experience for me. I will do better next time. I observed and replicated the cut outs and folds of the structures I replaced. It took a bunch of time to straighten out,I feel it was worth it , 7 yrs , 50 k miles later to it. I was a ship fitter a few careers ago, before that, that I was house carpenter. I grok structure.

  • Omer333 Omer333 on Feb 16, 2014

    Hi, I'm sorry to hijack the thread, but I was wondering how I would email Steve and Sajeev a question? Is there a general email or should I just email Steve directly? Thank you.

  • ThomasKing The right spec has a lot to do with the value you get for your money. No matter what vehicle you're looking to buy, there are certain specs that are important when it comes to making sure you get the best bang for your buck. Also, you check this http://bestrvextendedwarranty.com/ and get more new things for warranty problem-solving. The 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback is an excellent example of a model that offers very high value while still giving you all the features and amenities that make passenger cars so enjoyable.
  • Sayahh Toyota Century
  • Probert Really needed more front and rear overhang.
  • Varezhka Autozam AZ-1 or a Toyota Sports 800.
  • Jeffro I can’t recall a visit to a Honda or Toyota dealership that wasn’t revolting to some degree. Why run yourself ragged going through the sleazy and greedy system store gauntlet, when you can purchase your luxury vehicle with just a few clicks on your smartphone?
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