By on August 14, 2015

stsmain2

The prospect of buying a salvage titled car for almost half the price of one of its clean titled counterparts is tempting for many potential car buyers, but increasingly it’s becoming a losing proposition. I have bought and reconditioned a few dozen salvage cars (I currently own three). As I am getting ready to embark on a new car buying adventure, I sat back to look at the math for my current daily driver.

I purchased my 2005 Cadillac STS from an insurance auction a few years ago for about $3,400. After it arrived, I spent another $2,300 to repair it and get it back on the road. I went through the receipts a few months ago and wrote up a summary of the costs. It worked out to be a great deal for me at the time but now that I am getting ready to replace it, I decided to take a look back and see if I actually saved any money in the long run.

Prior to purchasing the Cadillac I spent about a year in a very basic Mitsubishi Lancer. I was spending a lot of time on the road doing some consulting work, so I picked up the Lancer at auction for about $2,000 for the sole purpose of having something cheap and fuel efficient. Once I settled for a local job that was not far from home I decided to reward myself and get something a bit more comfortable. I sold the Lancer for $2,800 and had another $3,500 saved up to get a replacement car. I had previously flipped a Cadillac CTS and found that it was something I enjoyed driving, but it felt just a little too small for me. I decided to go on the hunt for its bigger brother and started looking at all the versions of the STS, eventually resolving to look for a V6 RWD model. As I looked at local ads, I found that a clean example of a 2005 or 2006 model could be found for a little over $10,000. Since that wasn’t in my budget, I’d have to use my insurance auction membership and hunt out a deal.

Joining one of the insurance auctions is necessary to buy one of these cars directly and comes with a fee of $200 which should be added to my purchase cost of the Cadillac for a true comparison. I was already a member of two of the largest auction houses and had an advantage as I had bought and sold vehicles there previously. If you look at my post on the process of buying and repairing the vehicle you will see I ended up at a grand total of $5,700 to have it back on the road — with the $200 auction registration — bringing the grand total to $5,900. That seems like a decent deal since it’s ended up at 60 percent of the price of a comparable clean titled one. The only way I was able to attain such a price was due to my access to a shop where I could store the car for a month while I worked on it, having about 10 years of experience in repairing cars and two large toolboxes full of tools acquired over that period of time. Jack detailed these advantages a few months ago and in my case I am able to tick off most of the boxes on his list. Along with my knowledge and tools I also had a backup vehicle and did not have to pay a mechanic $75 to $100 per hour to complete the repairs.

stsinterior

I didn’t take an exact count of the time I spent on repairs on the vehicles, but I am sure that between the four of us that worked on it we chalked up at least 100 hours. Sending the car to a local mechanic that charged $75 an hour would bring the labor bill to $7,500 and cause my total to run up to $13,200 which would actually cost more than many of the clean titled examples available at the time. This explains why the car ended up at the insurance auction in the first place. Since it was only a perceived expense we will not count it in. In comparison, buying the clean title example at the time may have lost me a few hours here and there to do some maintenance, but my crew and I would have the remaining 95 hours to spend as we pleased. Over the past 27,000 miles I have had a few more items that needed replacement including wheel bearings, a steering rack, some struts and a control arm. The wheel bearings and steering rack are fairly common issues on these cars and are unlikely an issue of the accident that the car previously suffered. The control arm and struts are not common issues and appear to have worn prematurely due to the previous accident history. I bought the control arm for $80 from a recycling yard and picked up the struts on Amazon for about $220. This brought my running total for the car to $6,200. I spent more money on the maintenance of the car, but that would have been spent of the clean version as well, so we will not count that in for the purposes of our initial comparison.

stsengine

The final tally of $6,200 still left about $3,800 in my pocket over the clean titled option. If I planned to drive the car into the ground it may make sense, but now that I am getting ready to sell it the story is a bit different. I started my most recent research by looking at the Manheim Market Report or MMR. This report details recent sales prices of cars at their dealer auctions. I found that an average clean titled STS similar to mine is currently selling for about $3,800 while the rough and salvage titled examples are selling in the $1,700 range. These were my starting figures for setting a sale price. I also decided to take the car to CarMax just to have a figure for comparison and they came back with an offer of $1,400 to buy the car. The offer came back within my expectations as I have found they usually come in at around 80 percent of the MMR value. Taking a clean titled version to CarMax would have likely netted me an offer closer to $3,000. I checked some of the current ads and recent eBay sales and noticed clean models going for about $4,500 while salvage titled models are selling for about $2,000.

I will likely spend more time trying to sell this car since it has the salvage title and will likely get about $2,000 for it. This will bring my total ownership cost down to $4,200 while the clean example could be sold for $4,500 bringing that ownership cost to about $5,500. In the long run I will have saved $1,300 by purchasing the salvage titled vehicle, but that comes on the back of spending many hours under the hood of the car that I could have used for leisure or an enjoyable hobby and looking at the big picture I no longer find that it was a valuable use of my time. We can add another facet to this discussion by adding the overall maintenance costs. I estimate that I have spent an additional $1,600 for tires, brakes, steering and suspension maintenance which brings my true cost of ownership to $5800. I have driven the car for about 25 months, so my monthly cost will end up at $232 if I am able to sell it in the next few weeks. Seeing this number in front of me, along with some clear editorials by lease proponents, has pushed me to look at leasing a car. Leasing used to be a blasphemous term in my car buying discussions, but when you consider that you can get a brand new sedan with better fuel economy, more power and a warranty for the same monthly cost as what I spent on the Cadillac, it becomes a worthwhile consideration.

My current state of mind is in two camps. One is telling me to lease something decent and somewhat sporty that I can get for around $300 and enjoy it for a few years without worry while the mischievous side of my mind is telling me to pick up one of the fun cars that I have always thought about like the Pontiac G8 GT or the Saab 9-3 Turbo X. Both of these can be found in pretty nice condition for about $15,000, so it will be something to ponder. If I do decide to buy the G8 or the 9-3 they will surely be clean titled cars because they will be easier to finance and to sell once I eventually decide to move on. I am lucky due to the fact that I have a beater truck as a backup vehicle and a never ending project car for fun, but in the end I want to have a daily driver that puts a smile on my face when I get behind the wheel in the morning.

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140 Comments on “The True Cost Of Owning A Rebuilt Salvage Car...”


  • avatar
    redav

    You never get more than you pay for.

    Used cars, and particularly salvaged cars, cost less because you truly get less. If they were such a deal as is typically claimed, then they would sell for more (because the buyer would recognize the value and still be willing to pay more) until they were no longer ‘such a deal’ but rather on par with other options on the market.

    It’s hard to escape the strong hand of economics.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Yeah, a free and competitive market with many buyers and sellers, such as the one for used cars, is very efficient.

    • 0 avatar
      mmreeses

      if anything i’d argue that salvage and many used cars cost more than they should.

      many buyers mis-underestimate the condition of the car, mis-underestimate the costs of fixing-upping the car and don’t include the wasted time shuttling between the mechanic’s.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        Don’t forget that salvage vehicles have a decent value in parts alone if you have the space and patience to part it out one component at a time.

        Private salvage yards also tend to be an all cash business which has certain tax benefits (specifically not paying full freight of sales or income taxes).

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        I agree mmreeses. It’s getting to the point that it’s not even worth getting a Honda a year or two old, when you van buy it new for a similar price.

      • 0 avatar
        dartman

        Do you mean: ” many buyers misunderstand the condition of the car and underestimate the costs…’

        If you want to combine misunderstand and underestimate to create the malapropism “mis-underestimate” and sound like a dumb former President, the proper usage would be: “many buyers mis-underestimate the condition of the car, and the costs of…

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Well, rarely.

      Because asymmetrical information – if you and only (or almost only) you know something that means you realize the value is higher than the seller, you can get more than you pay for.

      In the general market for normal cars in predictable condition?

      Nope. You don’t, unless you get really lucky.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I know a couple of guys who have played the salvage title game. I think you are on point, unless you intend to drive it till it drops the math rarely works out.

    I would think with your skill sets and I assume short commute you could pick up a 10k miles per year lease for sub $300. I like variety in my commute, so I have shifted to the couple of 08’s that I picked up reasonably, both are known to be high resale value rides so I can pound some miles on them and still get out of them fine.

    I figure if I keep a car for 20 months, put 20k miles on it and sell for 2k less than I bought I am doing ok. Gotta watch the tires though when you buy the car. A new set of treads can approach 1k quickly depending on the type of car which can screw up the math quickly.

    • 0 avatar

      There are deals to be found at some of the auctions and I have made money on some of the cars I have flipped but those have been mostly theft recovery and repossession vehicles which didn’t have too many issues.The CTS I mention above was one of my best flips but that was mostly due to the fact that someone had damaged the ECM and wiring and nobody wanted it. My wiring and tuning knowledge helped me out there are allowed me to buy and fix the car as most dealers would not touch a car with electrical issues. There have also been others that I have bought and broke even or lost money on. I try to be honest about every car that I sell and have ended up sending cars back to auction at times if I didn’t deem them safe to repair.

      • 0 avatar
        Paul Alexander

        Sounds like you don’t so much ‘flip’ cars as repair and sell them. I love your honest approach to this, I believe you’re the first person I’ve met who does something similar that would even entertain such a notion: ‘I try to be honest about every car that I sell and have ended up sending cars back to auction at times if I didn’t deem them safe to repair.’ Most ‘flippers’ seem to derive enjoyment from ripping people off as much as possible and couldn’t care less about things like ‘safety’.

        • 0 avatar
          carfox

          +1

          There seems to be a dangerous new trend where people who flip cars buy a wrecked car, do some hack job repairs to hide damage and relist them. Case in point – I was looking for a car for my wife and because I don’t have the resources or desire to repair a highly damaged car, I resort to looking at lightly damaged cars. So I find a Volvo XC60 and Google it, I end up here http://www.salvagetruth.com/2013-volvo-xc60-yv4952dl6d2398752/ Yeah…won’t be buying that one. Going through the auctions, they seem to be filled with these types of scams.

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        There is one other value for your calculation, though it’s intangible and impossible to properly quantify. You’ve kept a valuable car in service, which reduces the demand for new cars. While the STS would still have been parted out before being crushed for scrap, your work preserved vastly more of the value of the car. This is not insignificant.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Me <3 this piece.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks!

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        These are the sort of things I do. You’re like the version of me that messes with R-title/salvage title because the me version of me avoids them because resale can be tough (unless there’s just not a lot of money at stake in the first place).

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I got a much nicer (already repaired) car than I could have otherwise afforded by purchasing A) on Ebay and B) with an R-title.

          Saved me a lotsa’ money. Just have to be careful what -sort- of damage the car had previously. I saw the before and after pics and made the judgment that it wasn’t too risky.

          Purchased from a seller who had the car for a little while and wanted to get rid of it, and who bought damaged cars and repaired them as a business.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            Specialists can do a good job. My mechanic fixes salvage vehicles up. He makes a nice vehicle.

            I’ve owned two vehicles that fall into this realm- a 1995 LeSabre that avoided a salvage title due to age (WY doesn’t give them to older cars), but that was a hail damaged car. It’s the best, most reliable car I’ve owned.

            I also own a 2000 K3500 from the same guy. This one had a salvage title, and needed a new engine. He put a new engine in, and two months later, the transmission went out.

            All said and done, that truck is still cheaper than the retail for a clean one would have been. But, not all salvage vehicles are created equally. Hail damage is a lot easier on a car than a massive accident. I’ve seen some of the vehicles that he works on that were in accidents- I’ll stick to the hail cars.

  • avatar
    NN

    I used to be similarly focused on saving as much $$ as possible on cars, purchasing No Reserve auction vehicles on eBay without clean titles, and being willing to put hours into them wrenching if needed. Sure, I could drive vehicles that I paid for in cash at a fraction of the cost of an unmolested version of the same, and it was nice not having car payments. But this is a game for people who don’t put much value on their own time. Once I had kids life got busier and time more precious. I don’t even change my own oil anymore; it’s hard to find value in it when you can find dealers who’ll do an oil change and tire rotation for $40 while I’m at work, and it would cost me $25 to buy my own oil & filter at the auto parts store, plus time on a weekend.

    There’s also the other concern of not being confident that the salvaged vehicle will be as safe in an accident while you’re driving your loved ones around. There are very valid reasons these things are cheap in the first place.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    I just sold a salvage title Honda Fit for $5600, a full $4k over what any dealer was offering.

    It had a pile of receipts, some new parts, and was over-maintained (belts, plugs, etc all done before needed). Then it had a $130 detail (including engine bay).

    When I listed it, I used Cars.com to get a free history report. I also posted on Craigslist. Every time I put up as many images as I could (up to 40). I also posted about a hundred pictures on a public Flickr account, which I’d send to anyone interested.

    It took about three weeks, but I found someone who wanted that exact car and appreciated all I’d done to keep it very clean.

    TL;DR: lots of pictures, expensive detail, and patience will get you several thousand more.

    • 0 avatar

      Selling the car yourself will get you a better deal than trade in but it’s also related to my argument above. It’s a time versus money situation and in your case it worked out very well as you had a car that was in demand and could be marketed to people who would not mind the salvage title for a commuter car. In my case, I may end up trading as I can probably negotiate to within a few hundred dollars of what I could reasonably sell the car to a private party.

      You are spot on in regards to pictures and making the car look nice. I have bought a few craigslist cars for cheap just because the seller had one bad pictures or no picture at all and people were not biting. I would take the car, clean it up and put it right back up for sale and sell it to make a quick profit.

      • 0 avatar
        bryanska

        I used the strategy of finding a dumb person. A smart person might have paid $1.5k more for a non-salvage Fit. Instead, a dumb person was impressed by a $130 detail job and a documented history of ownership in the 50k since the accident. I am convinced they could have done better elsewhere.

        You might consider marketing the STS as the rare “good deal” salvage car. Post it on the Cadillac forums, the local autocross forums, the local college student social media.

        I see two target buyers for your car: one is a car-savvy enthusiast who appreciates the whole package and wants a STS. You will need to wait for this guy but it’s a painless sale. I’d market this as above: on forums, on Craigslist, and on cars.com… the long game.

        The other target is a low-income, car-dumb buyer who wants a luxury car at a steal. In urban Minneapolis, that’s east African and south Asian immigrants who don’t mind a third- or fourth-hand Mercedes over 100k. For this, I’d park it in front of the halal or Indian food markets, the dollar stores, etc. You’ll get dozens of inquiries per day and might be expected to haggle. Quick but probably painful.

        (Note I’m not trying to “profile” the low-income buyer. They spend less, and drive nicer models, than many high-income buyers.I just know how they buy.)

  • avatar

    Time IS money, and my time is valuable enough not to waste on cars like this. Salvage title cars only work if you keep them forever. With the large amount of time/effort you spent repairing, you got absolutely hosed. I hope you learned something. If you can’t afford a good car at $10k, then buy a “80k-mile grandma special” Buick/Lincoln on CL for $4500 and fix what breaks when it breaks. Sell it a few years on for $3000 and you did well; spend your time making your life better, not fixing a salvage title POS.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree and over time I have learned to value my time better. While I have come out on the positive end overall for the salvage cars I previously flipped, there was lots of time invested in getting them there and it’s not something I would continue to pursue. I ended up getting a dealers license a few years into my car flipping adventures and found that even with the overhead of property, licenses, insurance, and bond that I made out much better dealing with clear title cars.

      I have also owned and sold some of the grandma specials and they are great cars if you just need something to get around in. My primary cars will most likely be all clear title cars form now on but I may still pick up the occasional salvage truck like my beater truck mentioned above which was dirt cheap and has paid for itself already.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Yep, makes total sense. I ended up going through similar calculations when my 2005 Saab approached end-of-life. I bought it for $8500 in 2009, with a year and 40k left on the CPO warranty. It got me in a far better car than I could have had if I’d gone a more conventional route, but after five years and an engine swap (which ended up being nearly for naught), when I added up the total cost of ownership it was costing me as much as a lease to keep it on the road. Yeah, it’s “yours”, but one way you’re spending $250 a month to keep a five year old car going *and* pumping in a bunch of your time, and one way you’re spending $250 a month and getting something newer, safer (now), with more toys, and without averaging a couple of hours a week cursing at a car from underneath. It’s a couple seconds slower to sixty, the leather isn’t as nice, and the carpet’s thinner, but on balance I think this is the better deal now.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    Just curious: Does the salvage title affect the ability to insure the vehicle, or affect the premium?

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      That’s a great question.

      I would guess that it limits what the insurance company would pay in an accident & be more inclined to scrap it. If they are honest, that would reduce the premium (lower consequence -> lower risk), but they probably also consider the car to have higher probability of an incident, so it may wash out.

    • 0 avatar

      Most of the salvage cars I have insured have not had issues and cost is just about the same as my clear title cars. The only caveat is that some insurance companies will only let you insure them for liability and will not allow you to get comprehensive coverage.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        No ‘body shop’ will work on it, if the resto was half-assed. Then the insured can claim all the panel lined up before the minor accident. It could end up one giant cluster F for the insurance company.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Allstate absolutely did not care what the title on my car said. The insurance was the same price either way. And I could go online and get comp coverage out the wazoo if I so desired.

        • 0 avatar
          matador

          Really. Our Allstate agent wanted nothing to do with our rebuilt truck, but Farm Bureau didn’t bat an eye at it.

          We could have gone for comprehensive on it, but we passed. How many GMT400s are out there for body parts?

        • 0 avatar
          insuranceguy83

          They probably didn’t ask. Considering I worked in an agency and now in underwriting, I’ll tell you that most won’t ask if the vehicle was salvaged or not. However, in a lot of states such as Arizona, Rhode Island, Arkansas,D.C., Iowa, Kentucky…off the top of my head (w/Allstate), we are not supposed to write coverage. Matter of fact, if an issue arises where a claim is made and we find out the history of the vehicle, we can claim Misrepresentation and make the entire contract null and void. Which will leave someone in a nasty predicament legally as you would be on the hook for all damages in the result of a claim.

    • 0 avatar

      I worked in a claims office at a certain red-shirt-loving insurance company about 15 years ago – at the time, their policy was that you could only get liability on a salvage title car (not comp and collision). Presumably because they figured it might get more damage in an accident than a never-wrecked car, or that it would be hard to tell what was prior damage and what wasn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      namesakeone

      Though the people who responded to the question apparently had mixed bag results initially insuring a salvage-title car, I wonder about the results if and when a claim is made. The insurance company may give diminished value of a salvage-title car–or deny the claim entirely, stating (in a “your word versus ours” attitude, if there’s nothing in writing) that the salvage title status wasn’t disclosed when the car was initially insured, and thus was unsafe. Insurance companies are very good at finding ways to deny claims; this may give them added ammunition.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    For 4 years now I’ve been driving an 01 grand Marquis with a rebuilt title. I got ite from a dealer that only sells rebuilt titles. I paid $3700 for it and it had 55k miles when I got it. It’s been fine and I’ve now got 145k on it with no major issues. Biggest thing I’ve done is ball joints.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Do people ever buy humble, practical and cheaply fixed salvage cars or are they just for sad wannabees and those preying upon them?

    I’d be afraid of some horrible smell rising like a phoenix from its unknown past.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      Considering how many get duped into buying poorly flipped houses with all sorts of problems, I’m sure plenty of car buyers get suckered too.

    • 0 avatar

      There are many different buyers and sellers for the salvage cars. I have bought many different kinds of vehicles. My truck is something I consider a humble salvage purchase as it was cheap to buy and is cheap to maintain. It has lots of utility and here in my area it can be sold in a weekend if I wanted to get rid of it.

    • 0 avatar
      bryanska

      I drove a salvage title Honda Fit for four years. It’s a good salvage title car: robust, simple, reliable. Once bent, it runs fine when bent back into place.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        A former co-worker bought a salvage title Civic that looked great…until she kept noticing excessive tire wear and her mechanic figured out that the car was created by welding two car halves together. The Frankencar had been sold as is with the salvage title noted on the bill of sale so she was stuck with it.

  • avatar
    01 Deville

    Having just sold my 01 deville with 145k miles for 2k on craigslist I find this piece relevant to my considerations for replacement. I too like to think in terms of cost of ownership per month.

    1. As a baseline, my Cadillac cost me about 120/month over 4 year period with couple of weeks of down time owing to faulty radiator but never let me stranded.

    2. Baseline 2 is my sister’s 2007 Camry that she purchased for 7500 in 2013 with 115k miles and has not needed any maintenance besides oil change for 25k miles and 2 years and can still be easily sold for 6500, giving a cost of ownership less than $50.

    3. I have a reliable minivan that should be good for at least a couple of years, so the new to mecar would primarily be a city driver. I do have a place to park for maintenance and access to a mechanic at $40/hour.

    4. Sane Choices- I can lease a midsize for about $220/month or as an anomaly local Kia dealer is offering 2015 Optima for $139/month for 24 month 24000 mile lease no money down, or a Sorento for $200 per month with same terms. Neither of these cars are Cadillacs of course, plus have to be very careful with leased vehicle and with soon to be 3 kids, I am nervous about the risk of damage and penalties on lease return.

    5. Crazy Choices-Expecting a third kid my preference is shifting towards a third row vehicle just for convenience of leaving kids stuff and car seats in each car. A 2004+E-Class wagon is very tempting choice for under 10K. I know better than to do a cost of ownership estimate on this.Or if I forgo the third seat, I can get a high mileage, but well maintained 2000+ S-Class for under 2, that I can sell after 1 year for 1k with cost of ownership under $100/month

    6. The optimal solution is probably a sporty crossover under 10 that I can drive for 3-5 years, a CX-9 or a 2007-2009SR, allow for about $300/year maintenance and $1500 for depreciation and end up with cost of ownership of about $150.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      My son, the Church asks you to consider our Lord and Savior, 3800.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Buick Lucerne with the 3800. Based on the DTS, but powered by our Lord and Savior.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Two words: Park Ave

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Park Ave = Lucerne

            It’s basically the same thing, but GM wanted to change the name.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            People tell me the Lucerne sucks in comparison, bad ergonomics, sh*tty brakes, other bean-counting.

            I say Park Ave is what you have.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            I had a ’98 Park Avenue and an ’07 Lucerne CXL. I preferred the PA, it felt faster, rode better, had better HVAC, got better fuel economy, better brakes, and was more comfortable. The Series III will probably run until the end of time though and the Lucerne is statistically quite reliable.

            A pristine PA Ultra would be cool as a keeper, but really if you’re okay with dumping it by 150k, a DTS is a good choice too.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            How about a Holden based Park Avenue? I know ajla would be all about that. Needs a V8 though.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I vote for later PA over Lucerne as well. It was a better looking car with a nicer interior that was different than the attending Impala.

            The Lucerne was too close to the Impala (and DTS, lawl). That stupid cheap steering wheel.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            The Park Ave was a G-body built along side the DTS. Maybe it was better than the Lucerne, I dunno. I just think someone would have a better chance of finding a clean Lucerne. The youngest PA is 11 model years old.

            There is also a LaSabre, which would be much cheaper than either.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Also, if we are getting into late 90s cars, my answer is Olds 88/LSS. Because I am an Oldsmobile slappy. Or a 98 Regency.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Oh I know they were the same underneath. Just after the Park Ave, they quit trying as hard to make the cars different. And around that 05-09 time was rather a period of austerity in the car business, and I think it shows up later.

            And I feel this is a much nicer place to be:
            http://zombdrive.com/images/2002_buick_park-avenue_sedan_ultra_i_oem_1_500.jpg

            Than this!
            http://images.usedcarsgroup.com/2006-buick-lucerne-schaumburg-il-i7119589603401384278-8.jpg

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            If you are rolling in a 98, you always come correct. Haters of the 98 are going to get theirs.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Look at it this way: The only 98 facsimile available after MY96 is the PA.

            FACT!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Ninety Eight FTW all day long.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            No Rocket emblem, no sale.

            Now I’m going to go get lost in looking for a G-Body Cutlass…

            http://www.autotraderclassics.com/classic-car/1985-Oldsmobile-Cutlass-2100604.xhtml?conversationId=2801009

            WANT! But not for 20Gs.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I really want an 83/84 Hurst/Olds Cutlass with T-Tops. I’d take it over late 60s iron.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            @28-cars-later

            …People tell me the Lucerne sucks in comparison, bad ergonomics, sh*tty brakes, other bean-counting.

            I say Park Ave is what you have…

            You are correct. It was a horrid, awful, terrible car. In my top five of worst rentals I’ve ever driven.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            Even I would have a hard time taking a 2000-2005 LeSabre. The 90s cars were in my mind, some of the best cars that anyone has built. The 2000s ones, though, had a lot of gremlins.

        • 0 avatar

          I have owned and flipped a few Bonneville’s, a Lacrosse, a V6 Camaro, and a few others and can attest to the the reliability of the 3800. I have also gotten lots of practice in replacing Lower Intake Manifold gaskets on those so if buying one you should make sure that they have been replaced or that you can replace them yourself. The first car my parents bought when we came to the country was an 89 Bonneville with about 80k miles. The engine was still going strong when we decided to junk it at around 270k due to a leaking heater core and few other age related issues.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Yes, I am familiar with LIM gaskets. Had them replaced on my sisters Alero with the 3400 that refuses to die.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “… was an 89 Bonneville with about 80k miles.”

            Yea, the LN3 is a fecking anvil. Buick at its best and it’s where the 3800 reputation really comes from. It also doesn’t have any LIM problems because it is single piece intake.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The devil’s koolaide also did not exist when the LN3 was sold.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          I had one of these as a rental back in 2006. It was a fully loaded model I picked up in Miami and drove to Key West.

          Absolutely hated it. Consider it one of the worst rental cars I ever drove.

          The 3.8L V6 was a horrid choice of mill for the Lucerne, and the car couldn’t get out of its own way. Put the skinny pedal to the floor to pass a slower car on US-1 and the engine just made some odd protesting noises.

          The seats were FCA rock hard – I felt like I was sitting on the seat, not in it. Rear visibility was a joke – thankfully this had front and rear parking sensors, but the way the information was delivered felt like it was developed in 1993.

          The only two complementary things I can say is it was whisper quiet and the ride was incredibly smooth – as long as you went in a straight line.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Your math is off – but you’ve left out one number that doesn’t indicate how to quite add it up.

      …Having just sold my 01 deville with 145k miles for 2k on craigslist I find this piece relevant to my considerations for replacement. I too like to think in terms of cost of ownership per month.

      1. As a baseline, my Cadillac cost me about 120/month over 4 year period with couple of weeks of down time owing to faulty radiator but never let me stranded.

      2. Baseline 2 is my sister’s 2007 Camry that she purchased for 7500 in 2013 with 115k miles and has not needed any maintenance besides oil change for 25k miles and 2 years and can still be easily sold for 6500, giving a cost of ownership less than $50…

      I’m going to assume you bought the DTS new in 2001 and split the difference on the luxury versus base, and take an educated guess you paid $43K for it.

      You sold it in 2015 for $2K

      $43K – $2K = $41K. So basically it fully depreciated.

      $41K depreciation over 14 years is $2,928.57 a year, that is $244 a month.

      You’re maintenance costs you say are $140 a month. You also say that was over four years, so what we don’t know from your post is, did you buy it new and only track costs the last four years, or did you buy it four years ago and for how much.

      Your sister paid $7,500 for a Camry in 2013. Her annualized cost is $3,750 a year. Each year she owns it that number goes down. That is $312.50 a month.

      I’d also point out that a 2007 anything will be inherently more reliable than a 2001 anything.

      A 2007 Camry better be more reliable than a 2001 Camry. They are both “reliable” but there are components that fail due to age regardless of make and model. On a 14-15 year old car, alternator, AC compressor, seals, hoses, all become suspect. Got a bad tank or gas or two, or got a little oil burn and the catalytic converter could be done. Sensors and sending units that can be bullet proof reliable through age and vibration give up.

      At 150K milesish your Deville lived out to what any car built to 2000 should achieve, 150K miles on almost anything built past 2000 should be a given, with only a handful of exceptions, mostly European.

      A 2015 almost anything, even all but Range Rover and some finicky Audi and Porsche models should see 200K miles no problem.

      When evaluating the cost of any car, the cost of the car itself must be taken into consideration. I would say insurance needs to be considered also, and in some states registration costs.

      • 0 avatar
        01 Deville

        Thanks for the reply and the con
        I bought the deville for 3k and spent about 4k in maintenance(new tires, alternator changed twice, ebcm, all round brakes, battery, new struts all round starter, power steering cable, lower engine mount, ignition coils etc), selling for 2k giving a total cost of ownership of about 5k over 44 months~ about $114/month so the math was off (no coffee in the morning) but I did factor in the cost of the car.
        For my sister’s example I was assuming if she sold her car today, she can get 6500 vs purchase price of 7500, loosing $1000 over 2 years from ownership which works out to be less than 50/month.

        I agree that anything in 2007 will be inherently more reliable than 2001, but would like to submit that in general maintenance for a 2007 Camry will be cheaper than a 2007 DTS, if solely for the complexity of working with Northstar. The experience driving both cars is of course also very different.

        As for those who suggested 3.8,
        1. Really like Park Ave, but it is 10 years too old for me. The dash reminds me of 1995 fleetwood I had before the deville. birthday next month)
        2. I have seriously considered first gen lacrosse, and it would probably be a very solid choice if I am not looking for third seat.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “I have seriously considered first gen lacrosse”

          I love the Lacrosse Super. Too bad the V8 W-bodies are quality nightmares.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          Thanks for the data – so right now – your DTS was cheaper than the Camry – for now.

          $3K – $2K = $1K.

          $1K + $4K = $5K / 48 = $104.16 a month

          $7.5K + $200 = $7.7K /24 = $320.83 a month

          I get $200 on 4 oil changes a year, $25 an oil change and they did a free tire rotation out of the goodness of their hearts.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            That data is useless because you are assuming that the Camry has zero value now. The only way the annualized cost would truly be $3750 was if it was stolen and there was no insurance coverage or if it was just walked away from. It still has value. Of course until it is sold you can’t put a hard number on that value.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Last 3800 powered Lacrosse left Oshawa in Dec 2008 as an MY09. My Pontiac was built in May 2007 as an MY08. I have had several cost cutting issues with it and at 82K outside of fluid changes have had to replace: front shock/coil spring suspension, power steering rack, front control arms, master cylinder (because of cheap seals, seriously), and its now going over for an exhaust leak. Its 8 fricking years old. Car starts and drives great, no drive-train issues whatsoever but the rest of it is garbage from a QC standpoint. My theory is GM ordered parts quality cuts when they realized they were going bankrupt. Bear this is mind, I’d rather have an MY04 GM clean/low miles than an MY05-10.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      “2. Baseline 2 is my sister’s 2007 Camry that she purchased for 7500 in 2013 with 115k miles and has not needed any maintenance besides oil change for 25k miles and 2 years and can still be easily sold for 6500, giving a cost of ownership less than $50.”

      This is where it is at if you want the lowest cost of ownership and it doesn’t have to be a Camry you could do this with many cars. The trick is to find one that has good tires, brakes, battery, ect and doesn’t have a $$$ major scheduled maintenance item due in those 2 years of ownership. Then you need to sell it when the tires, brakes ect are still good for another year or so to prevent getting low balled because it needs those items right now.

    • 0 avatar

      As a father of 3 and driver of cheap cars, I currently have a XC70 payed $3200.00 w/93,000 thou Iam playing a bit of a gamble with the early 5 spd auto. Currently had it 18 months bought new tires and a coil pack so far may need to do a wheel bearing soon. But I also drove it 23,000 miles in that time so I’m hitting some of the common Volvo wear items. But I did get 3 rows and very comfy seats for not much cash. Right now I;m in it for about 4k with repairs, They seems to sell for about what I paid for mine still so I’m likely at less than $50 a month so far. We’ll see how it goes.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Great article. I saw from your other post that you bought the car with the engine half apart and fixed that first. That was quite a risk you took and it is impressive that you brought it back from the dead. A lot of work though. How many miles total did you put it on it from the original 106K? Perhaps that can justify the expense if you put on some substantial miles.

    The other thing, I cannot imagine all of those bearings (wheel and driveline) were from the accident and I can hardly consider struts, racks and noisy cam chain tensioners as “normal” wear and tear parts.

    Sorry GM, you gotta make ’em a little more robust than this. Repairs like this can easily send good-condition cars to an early grave.

    • 0 avatar

      The engine was actually together and the car drove but the chain was rattling and it was misfiring. I ended up tearing it down and replacing the chains and all related components. This is a known issue with the 3.6L due to oil consumption and a long original oil change interval.

      I have put about 27,000 miles on it. The wheel bearings were most likely bad due to the large wheels that I assume the car previously had. I noticed evidence of this due to fender liners that were rubbed through.

      Some of the items should not have been wear and tear items, especially related to the timing chain.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I think that we have had this discussion many times before.

    A monthly cost of $232 plus 100 labour hours, to drive a 10 year old Cadillac with a dodgy reputation for reliability.

    For approximately the same monthly fee you could drive a number of brand new leased vehicles, put in minimal maintenance, be 99.9% sure that they will get you ‘there and back’ with zero problems and then turn them in for another new car at 24 or 36 months.

    If you take reasonable care, wash and vacuum it before you return it and lease another vehicle from the same manufacturer/dealer you will probably not get ‘dinged’ for any return costs (damage, etc).

    So unless you have the time, space, equipment, expertise and desire to wrench yourself, then financially the lease appears to be the better deal. And aside from an ever decreasing percentage of the population, few have the correct combination of what is required to maintain and repair their own vehicle.

    And if you do go with the salvage/auction/beater you are holding on to a diminishing asset, whose repair costs/time will probably increase each year.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Great piece and thank you for your insight.

    As TTAC becomes more of a click bait Jalopnik, informative articles like this will keep me coming back.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      FWIW, we miss you around here.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Blame the content. I still read but there really hasn’t anything industry related where I can shed some light. Questions of the day or tales of women on the side of the road usually have little to do with anything I’m familiar with (unless we’re talking about women with looser morals).

        Also, I haven’t seen the frequency of danio, mikey, etc. as of late. They usually stir up some good conversation in the comments section.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I get it man. There has been a TTAC commenter diaspora. The things I comment on have gotten smaller as well. I probably shouldn’t even bother with trolls anymore since it isn’t worth the time. Oh well.

          I should probably submit content. I have 1000 miles planned in a Transit van this weekend, and that is more interesting than any Doug QOTD.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Which Can of Soda Makes The Most Worser Sound in Lincoln Cup Holders?

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            There would be eight paragraphs about the Chevy SSR before the main topic was even mentioned.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            Hell yeah you should. I would read the f*ck out of that. I bet you could get paid for it.

            I am laughing at the Doug QOTD. Combine that with Aaron Cole’s attempt at mountains out of mole hills controversy and the first sighting of a .GIF as a headline picture, voided industry insight and you got a more controversial Jalopnik Jr with the flare and ‘dissection of gender roles’ of the Baruth brothers.

            I am critical because I care. But what I care about doesn’t generate traffic.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @bball40dtw

            The Church demands a theses on the subject.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Transit Van: Because you really need to move some stuff.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I actually somewhat have access to what I believe is a completely original MY69 Camaro (but I do not own it). I was thinking either this month or Sept doing a write up on it if the owner was interested in allowing it. Its a long story.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks!

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      Yes, Tres good to see you again. What ever happened to your piece on working in MX?

  • avatar
    caltemus

    Chrysler 300s rims?

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Dad had two salvage title cars – 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (which became mine) and a 1992 Achieva. Both driven until stolen or too worn out to sell.

    They were fixed up by his cousin who owns a body shop, the drawback I could see was the reduced value when the Cutlass was stolen. I got about 1/2 the check I would have gotten otherwise.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    It’s easier to make money on a salvage vehicle if you self-finance them or stick in the lower end of the market with more popular brands.

    I just sold a 2002 Toyota Prius for a $2000 profit recently that just needed a rear bumper assembly. It had an ungodly amount of wait time for inspection but once it passed, it was good to go. I get maybe one of these vehicles a year, if that, and only because I see them at the auctions. I don’t come out looking for them!

    What Bozi does can work as a business, but that’s the trick. You need to have it as a business and invest in all the body re-assembly tools that are needed to make it work. It’s not cheap and by no means an easy line of work.

    Most late model cars make far more money for exporters who have access to cheap labor, and customers who are more comfortable with buying salvage vehicles.

    • 0 avatar

      You got it. The cars I made the most money on were ones that I sold on consignment through some of my friends that ran lots where they would self-finance their customers. Once I got my lot and license I moved towards clear title vehicles as there was a much lower cost of reconditioning and they were easier to sell.

      I exported cars for a while as well and that’s a whole other ball of fun. We sent cars back home to the former Yugoslav republics and could usually get good money for anything diesel. Toyota’s sold well too but the exporters from some of the African nations drove prices up on those in too many cases where they would not be profitable after all was said and done.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        I always tell folks that salvage cars usually wind up in two places — Africa and Alabama.

        That isn’t too far from the truth these days. South America and the Middle East are still surprisingly strong. But I think it will only be a matter of time before American clean title cars owned by the OEMs start to take up that slack.

        We are in a leasing/finance paradigm at this point, and I don’t see cash making a comeback anytime soon.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    If you really want to save money and not have to deal with many repairs, you can buy a 2013 or 2044 compact for $15,000 or less. Drive it for 10 or 12 years, sell it for $2500 or $3000, and go get another one.

    Unless you’re absolutely broke or have no access to credit, there’s not much to be saved by keeping an old beater alive.

  • avatar
    EAF

    Bozi, great read thank you! Buy yourself the G8, I too secretly desire one but RWD and snow = :-(.

    I give you loads if credit for taking this project on. I’ve never tackled the timing chain replacement on this particular engine but it looks like a complete nightmare. I mean just looking at it, there has to be an easier way to design this thing. I definitely prefer timing belts, I don’t mind the service interval. They seem more reliable besides.

    How did you test the VVT gears? Is there an upgraded part number for the chains? Thanks.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you. It is one of the most complicated timing setups I have worked on. I did not individually test the VVT gears but I ended up buying hold down tools that lined up all of the cams for the job and checked timing via laptop once it was back together. GM has an updated kit out but I used one from Cloyes which I believe was 9-0753S

  • avatar

    I bought my mother a 2010 STS AWD fully loaded. She loves it because people give her compliments on it. It’s a big, red, shiny, Cadillac – something OLD PEOPLE expect out of their cars.

    The Navigation system is TRASH

    The dials and buttons are poorly labeled.

    The interior is less spacious than the new CTS – and far less comfortable than the XTS.

    The plastics are hard and uninviting beyond the caramel color.

    I’ve had to take it to Cadillac to replace fuses, replace plastic panels (under the seat for example) and the heated steering wheel.

    Only 50,000 miles on it.

    GM IS TRASH.

    Get a HELLCAT.

    • 0 avatar

      Mine does not have navigation but I looked into picking up a used setup for about $350 and after playing with decided it was not worth it.

      I also replaced the plastic panel on the side of the drivers seat as the clips had failed.

      While I have had a long journey with this STS I will buy another GM product again, especially if it has an LS motor.

      The Hellcat is amazing but if I had that kind of money to buy something fun I would probably pick up a CTS-V.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I like that you hang around in your article and post. I’m not saying other people don’t, I just think its nice that you do it.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Marcelo is good about that too. But he’s been absent a bit.

          • 0 avatar
            tresmonos

            This article sure as hell started a thread of comments waxing poetic about older TTAC. I miss his stuff, too.

            Maybe we’ll get some more used car salesman tricks to prey off the poor instead of well written global vehicle dissection and perspectives?

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Marcelo wrote great articles. I always enjoyed his perspective. Plus, he wrote about Brazilian cars I wouldn’t have had exposure to otherwise.

      • 0 avatar
        stroker49

        Navigation 2015!? Load an app for free into your cell-phone and pay 20 USD for maps including updates and load them down so you can drive unconnected for free from the mobile phone system.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I still recommend it for the young DIY’er. My 1st car was a 6 year old Mustang GT, no way I could afford otherwise. It needed a front clip, core support, rad, fan, misc, but drove fine. They had another Mustang, base model ‘T-boned’ with the parts I need, so it was $1,400 for both.

    I didn’t have a clue about wrenching, but learn tons. With my labor, paint and misc, it came to around $1,700 total, a fraction of retail.
    I had a blast doing it and drove the wheels off it.

    • 0 avatar
      greaseyknight

      Yep, bought a wrecked ’83 Yota for $200, $20 for a set of fenders, $20 in gas to haul home a free cab and core support, and $20 for a spot weld cutter that was a piece of junk. Truck was a flawless and I still own it, parked it in the back 40 when I moved out of state.

      Just did something similar with a 2nd gen Cr-V, less then $1300 into. Its got 200k miles, but for the price, we’re happy.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        You got lucky. Rebuildable pickup trucks are next to impossible to find (not fubar). There used to be used car lots with acres of rebuildable, late model cars, open to the public, and not an auction. Clearly sourced from insurance auctions but still dirt cheap.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Now is not the time to be leasing cars. You should buy low and sell high as there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of depreciation happening right now and in many cases cars of all types are appreciating in value. Until that starts to change, I’m advising everyone I know to buy.

    Thanks for the post. I enjoy seeing how things like this break down.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Depreciation is there, it just wholesale is *at least* 30% inflated vs similar valuations ten years ago (maybe closer to 50% depending on what data you look at).

  • avatar
    suspekt

    I think buying rebuilt titled cars is a very smart way to go if you know what you are getting into.

    Some basic rules:
    – Stick to Japanese cars that turn-over easy in the used market (Accord, Camry, Civic, Corolla, CRV)

    – Stick to very low mileage examples

    – Stick to cars that were written for reasons that were not serious structurally or electrically (i.e. Theft recovery, special insurance policies, etc)

    – Stick to cars that have clear documentation of what happened to the car

    I mean seriously. You can get a 2013 Accord V6 Touring with minimal REAR collision damage for $15,000CDN with less than 20,000 miles. Drive it to 50,000 miles and let it go for $12,500… no fuss no muss.

    The Honda and Toyota cars are just dead simple.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Agree with all points here, but would add:

      There’s something to choosing a -less- common car as well, one which will have desirability later because it’s in good shape and with lower miles, and there aren’t 500 other examples on the Autotrader page with yours when you go to sell.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        It’s about a ‘wash’. More buyers are looking for the common cars. Except you want parts and parts-cars that are easy to source. If you get lucky, you find 2 of the same cars to fix, but only build the best of the two, with one in hit in front and one rear ended.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Another approach: track day car. Who cares about the salvaged title. Fix what is broken, wrong or unsafe, then add go fast parts (or just grippy tires) and beat the thing silly. Ripped seats? Who cares! Electronics underwater? Who cares! Dented fenders? Who cares! If you trailer the car to the track you can even avoid registering the thing.

      If you get a car that is not too trashed you can strip the interior and sell off the parts to pay for a decent set of performance brakes. You can do this with any number of vehicles from Miatas to ‘Vettes to even Civics and various Fords all day long. Stuff like mufflers and CELs don’t matter on the track. When your done you might even be able to sell it (break even) to another track rat.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    I have a 2005 STS 3,6 RWD. I had to change the steering rack and the door handles. But it has now been without trouples for several years. It has 75000 mi on the odo. Yes the navigation system is not good, otherwise it is a nice comfortable car. Now when you have sort it out you should drive it another 5 years, this is the time to start saving money!

    I don’t have to buy salvage cars, because I live in Europe. American cars (unless they are made i S Korea) have the worst depreciation of all cars so one can pick up an used one in good condition for a great price. But you need to keep it, it will be almost impossible to sell!

  • avatar
    nickoo

    I bought a 1997 olds 88 salvage due to peeling off the door panels by an old lady ehi shouldny have bern driving. Already Professionally repaired when sold to me for 3400 with 60k. It was one if the best cars i ever owned. The body and interior held up way better than my parents comparible buicks. Next time i need a cheap car…its a 90s lexus ls all the way or panther lovin.

  • avatar
    dwford

    I just don’t understand why people torture themselves driving old jalopies. The time and money spend on the repairs and maintenance offset what you would have spent if you just bought a decent car in the first place. No net savings, time wasted, driving a piece of junk out of some prideful perceived frugality. Just get a real car.

    My brother the cheapskate bought a cheap used SUV for around $7,000. wanted a low payment etc… Guess what, that junker is constantly in the shop for repairs, and guess who gets to be the taxi in the brand new vehicle: me. Thinks he’s got it all figured out because it’s now paid for. No, he’s just making irregular payments to the repair shop instead of regular payments to the bank, and driving an outdated, uncomfortable junker in the process.

    • 0 avatar
      matador

      I own a 1995 LeSabre with 225k, among other older vechicles that I’ve owned.

      The reason is simple: I bought the Buick for $700. I had no car at the time, and it was in budget. I would have preferred a 2010 Accord over it, but a High School student who had maybe $1000 to his name can’t do that. The car isn’t the penalty box that you think. It’s just as comfortable as my Audi, and has only stranded me once (Serpentine belt broke afet everyone closed for the night).

      Is it perfect? Nope. But, that $700 car has ferried me around for over 40k miles, and has done very well. It owes me nothing. After the end of the year, I’ll likely replace it, since I can afford better than I could a few years ago. But, when you have little money, you do whatever you can to get by.

      Oh, and I’ll keep the Buick. Because those shinier, newer cars break down too!

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      1. Depends hugely on what you buy.
      2. The “Clunker” might be a sentimental vehicle (Granny’s, Dad’s, my kid grew up in it).
      3. Might be familiar and comfortable.
      4. Cheaper to insure.
      5. Cheaper to maintain. Seriously, look at tire prices for 18-22″ tires.
      6. You don’t give a shit about the people who judge you by your car.
      7. Ultimately, less expensive all the way around unless you buy a known unreliable vehicle.

  • avatar

    I see you retrofitted the later front fascia to it.

    A family friend of ours did something similar to her STS after her daughter was read-ended. She bought it back for pennies on the dollar from the insurance company, had it fixed and paid off the car. However, hers is an STS-V.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    I honestly think many salvage cars are greatly over priced.

    Where I can see it making sense though is if the car is restored salvage titled and has already had the repairs. You can make a decent case for it as a beater that you drive in the ground and all the depreciation is over. And many are done properly and not just in some guys backyard.

    But stay away from flood damaged cars that are salvage cars.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I have played with only one vehicle with a salvage title and that worked out great, drove a car for about 18 months and walked away with some profit but it was an unusual circumstance.

    My wife’s co-worker had their car vandalized while sitting in their driveway one night. The assumption was that a boy who felt jilted by his daughter did it as retaliation since that was the car she was allowed to drive when her dad wasn’t using it.

    Apparently someone forgot to lock it one night and he was able to get in and he brought a knife or box cutter along. He proceeded to slice the dash pad and almost every piece of upholstery inside the car other than the driver’s seat, the driver’s side rear door panel and headliner.

    It was taken to the local dealership and of course they way they sell the upholstery is by the piece, seat bottom, seat back, head rest, ect. He also stole the knobs off the radio and mangled the multi-function switch. I got a look at the estimate that was well over the retail value of the car at the time. There were about a dozen pieces that ranged from something like $60 for a head rest cover to somewhere near $300 for the rear seat bottom and $600 or $700 for the dash pad.

    I told him that I’d pay him $250 more than the buy back price the insurance company quoted him. So by the time I got it home and in my name I was into it for about $1600 for a car with a $6500 retail value.

    I picked up the radio knobs from the dealer for something like $20 and headed to the wrecking yard for the rest. All told I spent something like $400 for the rest of the items. I probably put in 40 or 50 hours including driving to the wrecking yards, pulling parts and installing them on the car. I did end up putting a set of tires on it while I owned it but this was back when tires were cheap.

    I ended up selling it to another of my wife’s co-workers who knew the history and was provided with pictures of the damage. My price reflected that it had a salvage title but I still came out ahead something like $1500~$1750, the wife drove it daily, and we took it on a couple of trips while we owned it putting on over 20K.

    But as I mentioned that was an unusual case since the car had zero body damage, I documented that fact and then sold it to a person who knew the car and its history. If I found such a deal again I would certainly snap it up.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Excellent article. I appreciate the honest, objective view of your own experience, which is very difficult to do – let alone share.

    I’ve often wondered about the economics of salvage title cars. There is a rather large dealer around here who specializes in these types of cars. Some of their inventory has been repaired (by them), but most is you-fix-it. Their deals appear to be great, but I imagine the hidden costs can add up. I once considered looking at a late-model minivan with water damage (flooded just above the floorboards, I think), but that seemed like a future nightmare with electronics and drivetrain issues.

  • avatar
    melvin360

    Fun article, great project. Helluva good lookin’ car (I may be in the minority?)

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