Most people have heard about the bargains to be had at car auctions, where repossessed, confiscated, and impounded vehicles can be bought for thousands less than at a regular dealer. However, fewer people are aware of the even less expensive deals you could get at a salvage auction.
What is a Salvage Auction?
Salvage car auctions are similar to regular car auctions, except that they deal in vehicles which have been involved in car wrecks and have usually been written off as a total loss by an insurance appraiser. These auctions used to be only open to professional auto dealers, but many are now opening their doors to the public.
There’s no doubt that you could pick up a bargain there – to qualify as an insurance total loss, vehicles must usually be worth 70% less than their book price, and will often sell at a salvage auction for even less than that. However, buying a salvage car isn’t for the beginner; get it wrong, and you could be left holding a useless heap of metal good only for the breaker’s yard.
The Cars Are Very Cheap
Insurers often declare cars a total loss when they’re still repairable – they’d rather not take the legal risk of declaring a car as possibly roadworthy and having their decision come back to haunt them. This means that salvage cars aren’t always as badly damaged as you might think. Also, salvage auctions operate almost entirely on volume rather than price, clearing as many wrecks as they can and making only a small profit on each.
There is No Warranty
Cars sold at a salvage auction are not in a roadworthy condition and come with no warranty whatsoever. This reduces the price even further, but it also means you need to be careful. If you buy a piece of junk metal, you only have yourself to blame.
The flip side of this is that what you see is what you get. The auctioneers have no interest in making a vehicle look better than it is, so if you inspect the car carefully, you should have no nasty surprises in store down the line.
Repairs Can Be Surprisingly Simple
As mentioned earlier, insurers often err on the safe side when appraising a car to avoid legal problems. This means that what looks like serious damage may only be superficial, and might not have affected the underlying mechanics.
Bodywork and so on is often fairly easy to fix by sourcing recycled parts, and the total cost of the wrecked vehicle plus replacement parts can still come to a very reasonable amount. If you have knowledge of major auto repairs or know someone who does, you could end up with a completely roadworthy vehicle at a fraction of the dealer cost of an equivalent car.
But there’s no denying that buying salvage vehicles is taking a risk. There’s no guarantee that the car you buy will be fixable, and it’s possible that no amount of repair work will make it legally safe for the road, even if you get it running.
Nonetheless, if you’re knowledgeable about cars and repairs and you choose a wrecked vehicle carefully, you could save a huge amount of money on your next purchase.