It seems like everyone is getting in on the action of buying a salvaged auction car, documenting their journey, and raking in the views on YouTube. Some of the larger channels rack up hundreds of thousands of views within hours!
Why is that? What’s going on with the salvage car scene and why is everyone suddenly so fascinated by car rebuilds when just a few years ago it seemed like the word, ‘salvage’ was synonymous with ‘stay away?’
What’s A Salvage Car?
Let’s start with the basics. When a vehicle has been in an accident and the insurance company paid a claim on it, the DMV is notified that the vehicle has been in an accident and the title is changed from ‘clean’ to ‘salvage’.
It can vary from state to state but overall this principle is typically nationwide. So if the owner decides not to keep it, the insurance simply sells turns around and sells it to an auto auction where auto dealers and private individuals can purchase them at a fraction of the cost.
The two largest salvage auto auctions in the US are, ‘Copart & IAAI.’ Both of these have tons of inventory being sold on a weekly schedule to various types of buyers. It’s important to note that the purchasing rules for every state vary so make sure to visit their respective websites for more information.
Types Of Vehicles Being Sold
These auto auctions sell not just cars but boats, RVs, motorcycles/scooters, lawnmowers, semi-trucks, and more. From a Honda Civic to a Ferrari. They sell it all at these auctions. Front damage, side door damage, undercarriage, rear damage, hail, theft, fire…you name it, they sell it.
Some of these vehicles are sold by private individuals, but mostly they’re insurance vehicles. What’s so luring to people purchasing salvage cars is that you can potentially find a great deal if the damage isn’t as bad as it might seem and you’re willing to fix it up.
On the opposite side of the coin, you can also get a lemon or a car where the images simply don’t disclose the full story. If you know what you’re doing, you can avoid these disastrous pitfalls which we’ll discuss later.
Not all vehicles on these sites are ‘salvage title.’ It’s important to note that most of the vehicles will either be salvage or clean title with salvage history. Depending on the state you live in, the DMV may change a clean title to salvage just because the inspection form says ‘salvage auto auction,’ even though it’s a clean title. So inquire from the auction and the state that you live in to make sure you avoid any issues.
|Clean w/ salvage history||Generally, you can register the vehicle without an inspection|
|Salvage||Requires inspection before & after repair (varies from state to state)|
|Certificate of Destruction||Cannot repair. For parts only|
Less common titled vehicles are “certificate of destruction” or otherwise known as ‘parts only.’ This vehicle can never be registered again. Also, some of the titles may have a past lien on them. Regardless, it must be satisfied prior to the auction selling it so that typically won’t concern you unless the auction clumsily overlooks the paperwork somehow (it happens more than it should.)
Let’s talk about vehicle conditions and descriptions. So now that we covered the basics of the typical titles, we get to what almost every auto broker and individual wants to see, the condition and assessment.
|Run-and-Drive||The car can move at least a few feet on its own|
|Engine start||The vehicle starts but will not move either due to transmission or some other unforeseen issue.|
|Vehicle enhanced||Either it’s missing a key or the vehicle simply won’t start for some apparent or less-apparent|
Note: ‘run and drive’ can simply imply it moves a few feet on its own. Yea that’s right, it can have a shot engine, transmission gears barely engaging and it’ll still be considered ‘run and drive’ so the vehicle condition is just the beginning of the investigation process.
Why Salvage Cars are So Popular Right Now
A salvage auction car can truly be a great deal, provided if one is inclined to do the market research in the car’s apparent value, due diligence on the estimate of repairs, and assess it thoroughly at times based on images alone. It can also be the worst experience of your life.
This results in a fascinating ‘you never know,’ expectation until you’ve actually picked up the car from the auction. Hence, why the thumbnails are so enticing to click on and viewers (including myself) are so eager to find out.
So now that we know the basics of salvage cars let’s dig into why they’re so popular right now. If you’re someone that likes working on cars, watching someone else take on a risk documenting that journey can be really exciting to watch.
YouTubers like Samcrac (whose channel is one of my favorites), buy all kinds of exotic cars and fix them up showing you exactly how he does it. They show us what to look out for when inspecting the car, tips on how to fix things for much cheaper, and save money on labor costs via DIY. Larger Youtubers can easily rack up millions of views on each video.
As a car fixer myself, I find that these types of videos are so valuable and reinforce the reason why fixing a car yourself doesn’t have to be that daunting. Before salvage cars became a ‘thing’ on YouTube, most people when they heard that word, ‘salvage’ ran away without looking back.
Learning from experienced veterans who’ve been doing this for a while, has dispelled many fears. There are quite a few private individuals who for some undisclosed reason decide to sell it back at the auction. A simple VIN search in google via ‘copy and paste’ then clicking the ‘images’ tab, will reveal if it’s ever been on the auction before and what kind of damage it had.
There are some deliberate scammers who will buy an auction car, fix up the overall cosmetics, and sell it right back on the auction to make a large profit.
Cars like this can have severe defects like a bad engine, beyond repair engine frame rails, or something along those lines. The buyer is fully responsible for doing the due diligence to avoid purchasing a vehicle like this from the auction. The simple VIN research method I mentioned previously, is very helpful to see its original listing before the repairs.
Sometimes a buyer realizes there’s simply too much damage only when inspecting it upon arrival and decides to list it back on the auction. I always recommend you buy locally so you can inspect the vehicle on the lot before picking it up. Many auctions prohibit you from seeing the vehicle in the salvage yard. It’s a strict rule I know, so inspecting the images, listing descriptions and the history is important.
Even if there is a cancellation fee, it might save you more money down the line by simply refusing it rather than trying to re-sell or worse partially fixing it up and trying to list it back on the action.
The Exotic Factor
It’s hard NOT to click on the thumbnail that has a wrecked Ferrari or Lambo. With video titles like, ‘I just fixed a $10k problem for $5 on my Ferrari,’ I mean come on, I have to find out what exactly they did. These salvage auto auctions have cars that sometimes don’t even pop up on the regular market regularly. Whether it’s a rare Diablo or an exquisite Jaguar XK-E Series I.
There are so many collectible vehicles on these sites starting from the 1920s and up. Some are professionally restored but were damaged and written off as a loss, but oftentimes, most of these vehicles are simply unrestored, deteriorated, or were in some kind of accident.
I’ve seen Lambos on these sites that were burnt to the crisp, but people still pay thousands of dollars due to the vehicle still having good wheels which cost a lot of money. Other vehicles were being bid on internationally especially from places like Dubai where they love exotic cars. That’s another thing to remember, when you’re bidding on these cars even locally in your area, people from all over the world are bidding on it as well.
Post Malone’s wrecked Rolls Royce ended up on one of Copart’s auto auctions in the Los Angeles area. I think it had side-door damage, which is quite tricky to repair since the handle is on the side closer to the front. Parts for these vehicles can also cost a fortune. So when a video surfaces, showing how to fix something on the cheap without compromising quality, I find it extremely intriguing.
It’ll be interesting to see more people who have not been deterred by the word, ‘salvage,’ join the community of repairing vehicles and end up owning a fixed-up car at a fraction of the cost. Yes, salvage cars have a damage history, and the resale value ultimately is lower than a clean-titled car, but if you’re not deterred by all this and enjoy working with your hands, it can be one of the more rewarding experiences.
The community of people that repair vehicles, salvage forums, local mechanics, body shops all provide vast information and help at one’s disposal to fix up one of these. I think it’ll be interesting to see more videos surface on YouTube as I find them very enjoyable.
Provided that purchasing a salvage auction car can either be a worthy endeavor or possibly the worst experience you’ll ever have, I think these resourceful videos showing us video consumers how to avoid major traps and pitfalls when it comes to repairing a salvage car is invaluable.
What do you guys think about salvage car repair videos? Have you ever repaired a salvage auction car before, if so, what was that experience like?