Should You Buy a Rebuilt or Salvage Title Car?

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Megan Foukes is a recent graduate from Indiana University who graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism. Megan works as a content writer for Auto Credit Express and contributes to several automotive and finance blogs.

, - October 17, 2019

Ideally, you should buy a car with a clean title, but, sometimes, you find a vehicle that you love with a branded title. The most common title brands are salvage and rebuilt, and these cars have gone through the ringer in terms of damage. You should be aware of what you’re getting yourself into when you purchase a branded title vehicle.

Salvage Title vs. Rebuilt Title

A clean title car brand means the vehicle doesn't have a recorded history of experiencing major damage. However, it’s not uncommon to come across a rebuilt or salvage title car. While you may think the terms “salvage” and “rebuilt” are the same, they’re not, especially when it comes to branded vehicle title.

Let’s take a look at what each of these mean:

  • Salvage titles – A car issued a salvage title means it was heavily damaged in an accident or natural disaster. These vehicles are deemed a total loss by an insurance company, meaning repairing it would cost more than 75% of the car’s actual cash value. Most of the time, insurance companies sell these vehicles at auction.
  • Rebuilt titles – A car with a rebuilt title means it was previously listed as salvage and then repaired. In order for a vehicle with a salvage title to be re-classified with a rebuilt title, it must be deemed drivable again by the state issuing the title. Not all states call these rebuilt cars, and you may see alternative classifications such as "reconditioned," "reconstructed," or "repaired" listed on a title. If a state doesn’t have a rebuilt designation, repaired vehicles end up keeping their salvage title designations.

Other Car Title Brands

Salvage and rebuilt aren’t the only titles a car can have. Different states have different title brands and variations, so it can be tough to distinguish the type of damage a vehicle has received.

While salvage and rebuilt are the most common, you may also come across these four title brands:

  1. Junk – Sometimes referred to as "crushed," "dismantled," "scrap," "totaled," or "unrepairable," a junk title brand means a car can only be sold for parts or scrap.
  2. Flood – Vehicles that have been through a flood and experience flood damage may get this title brand. CarsDirect recommends that you avoid flood-damaged vehicles.
  3. Lemon – Every state has lemon laws, but they’re not universal. In order for a car to be considered a lemon, new vehicles need to have spent a number of days (usually more than 30) out of commission, or typically have had the same problem repaired multiple times without the issue being fixed.
  4. Fleet – Although this isn’t technically a title brand, fleet cars are seen at auctions, and a fleet designation means the vehicle either has high mileage, been driven by multiple drivers, or both. Fleet cars are usually previous rentals, company vehicles, government cars, taxis, or police vehicles.

The Bottom Line

Be wary of branded title cars. They may seem like a great deal and not show any major issues, but there’s a reason why they have been assigned a title brand. If you do want to purchase a branded title vehicle, carefully look at the title and its history report, and make sure you have a certified mechanic inspect any used car before agreeing to anything.

If you’re looking for a new vehicle and you need a lender that works with bad credit, we can help. At CarsDirect, our new and used car sections allow you to compare models and help you decide what you should buy for your next vehicle. Plus, we can help you find a dealership.

All you have to do is fill out our auto loan request form, and we’ll work to get you connected to a local dealer that has the financing resources you’re looking for.


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Megan Foukes is a recent graduate from Indiana University who graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism. Megan works as a content writer for Auto Credit Express and contributes to several automotive and finance blogs.

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