First of all, what is a salvage titled vehicle? What does salvage mean? It means that an insurance company deemed the vehicle a total loss. To be deemed a total loss an insurance company will determine that the vehicle would cost more than 80% of its book value to repair. Imagine the damage required to exceed 80% of a cars value to repair. You will hear things like "light roll over" or "light hit in rear" these are a bunch of grade A guano. If the car was paid out on and insurance salvaged it's taken a beating and virtually always is much more than cosmetic.
Unibody vehicles can have their "frame" pulled out to some extent but the crumple zones have been used up and will never crumple properly again. The odds that you are hit in the same spot with the same force are low, but things happen. other fun things that can cause a salvage vehicle are water damage, imagine dipping your TV in a pool then drying it out and calling it good with light water damage and selling it, or theft, drive it like you stole it! These are other good reasons to avoid salvage cars. Water logged electronics can be finicky to say the least.
How is a car that was wrecked and repaired re-certified for road use? For starters the government does not do the inspections to re-certify a vehicle for the road, at least in Hawaii. This privilege falls to the very small number of body shops that are certified by the state to re-certify salvage vehicles. It's my understanding that the state does a cursory inspection after the vehicle has been certified by the shop. This amounts to essentially a walk around of the car to make sure no stolen parts were used in the repairs. look at your various body panels on a newer car and you will see vin stickers on them. This is what those stickers are for.
So Now that you know what an insurance salvage car is lets share a fine example that I found running through the auction one day...
I run right around 90 cars a week through my auction. I know nothing about the inventory and am just a middle man to the dealers. This means that the meat and potatoes of my work revolves around moving these vehicles in and out and making sure the information is right and transactions are handled smoothly. This leaves me little to no time to bother with looking at the actual inventory. Every so often something will catch my eye. Typically these somethings are rarities, like a manual turbo station wagon, or an old Plymouth Barracuda.
But, every so often I'm taken aback by something truly awful. Two weeks ago I noticed a Toyota Corolla with exceptionally low miles come in. These are fantastic sellers for us generally. Low mileage Toyota's are the holy grail of used cars. So i did a quick walk around on it and I noticed that the gap on one side of the trunk was larger than the other. I also noticed there had been some paintwork on the drivers rear 1/4 panel. I then noticed some odd tiny little cracks in the paint, and some rust spots just begging to rear their ugly cancerous little heads. If i notice these things I like to notify the buyers as I think it's good business. So I decided to dig a little deeper. I popped the trunk and examined the hinges which looked OK. But I didn't see bodywork where I expected to see it. I pulled out the trunk carpeting and discovered that the car was actually two cars which had been welded together. underneath the carpet there were terrible welds, caulking, and expanding construction foam holding both halves of this corolla together. The average person would never ever, have caught this. This car would have crumpled like a beer can if it were hit again.
This vehicle was incredibly dangerous. This car had a certified salvage title.