I need help buying a salvaged car?

Tiny
KEVINMEJIA1
  • MEMBER
  • 2011 TOYOTA COROLLA
  • 1.8L
  • 4 CYL
  • FWD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 75,000 MILES
I'm looking for a car and found a 2011 Toyota Corolla but it is salvage it was crashed and the bumper, lights, hood, and water pump was damaged and REPAIRED by full coverage insurance should I buy it? Please reply ASAP THANKS 
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Thursday, September 8th, 2016 AT 10:39 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
There are dozens of things to consider and dozens of questions that need to be answered. When you get to the bottom of that list, the last question is the one you asked.

I have a friend who owns a body shop and specializes in rebuilding smashed Chrysler products, particularly Dodge trucks. I bought a salvage-title truck last year. He repaired the body and I took care of the crushed electrical connector. There was no frame damage or bumper / grille damage. It was hit in the two left doors. To drive the truck, you'd never know it was crashed. That is the first consideration. If you see anything where the conversation ends with, "you have to expect little things like that with a repaired crashed vehicle", that is not the answer you want. First look at the gaps between the body and all of the doors, hood, and trunk. Slight imperfections are to be expected, just like you'd find on a new car on the dealer's lot, but there shouldn't be any big or uneven gaps. On the test drive, listen for wind leaks around the doors. Run the car through a car wash, then look in the trunk for signs of leakage.

Look under the bumper cover for missing plastic-headed fasteners. There will be extra, unused holes, but nothing should be hanging down or flopping around freely. On the test drive, the steering wheel must be straight when you're driving straight, and the car should not pull to one side when you let go of the steering wheel. (A little drift to either side is normal but it should be different depending on the stretch of road you're on). Those two things are a result of proper alignment. The third thing is proper tire wear patterns, but that will take you a few months to see. Compare the spacing between the front and rear of one tire to the fender, to the same places for the other tire. One tire should not be more forward or rearward a noticeable amount. Look on the plastic inner fender liners for rub marks indicating there is some structural damage that went unrepaired. Usually that will also cause an alignment problem that shows up in that pull or off-center steering wheel I mentioned.

The Check Engine light, anti-lock brake light, (if it has anti-lock brakes), and the Air Bag lights must turn on during the system self-tests for up to about six seconds when you turn on the ignition switch. If they never turn on, someone disabled that system, which is illegal. If they stay on, that computer has detected a problem and set a diagnostic fault code.

All of these things I listed pertain to any used car you're looking at. You have the advantage of knowing some of the history for this one. You're going to get less for the car when you sell it or trade it in due to the "Salvage" on the title, but you can expect to buy it for less than the going rate too.

The damage you listed is mostly cosmetic which is the most desirable. Structural damage can be repaired
but it takes longer so it costs more. Parts can add up pretty quickly too, which is why so many vehicles get "totaled" by insurance companies. Any used car should be inspected at a shop of your choice. Expect to pay for about an hour of their time. That's about what it takes for a used car to be inspected when it's a trade-in at a dealership. Don't let the seller force you to go to a certain shop. If they do that, they're likely in cahoots and the mechanic will purposely overlook some things that might be important. Also, there is no need to tell the mechanic which dealer is selling the car. If they're enemies, the mechanic is going to "find" things to scare you that might be of no value or concern. If the mechanic is friends with the seller, he may tend to gloss over things that you should know about. You want an impartial opinion about the car, not the seller.

Keep in mind there's a lot of miles on this car already so steering, suspension system, and brakes should be inspected anyway. That has nothing to do with crash damage. Most mechanics can also look at the repaired area, but it is real easy to overlook things since bodywork isn't their specialty area. If the seller offers a 30-day 50/50 warranty, it shows they have confidence in their product. The "50/50" part means you pay for half the cost of any repairs during that 30 days, if they do the work. The seller doesn't make a profit, but they don't lose much money on the repairs either. You can have any of a number of unexpected things go wrong, just like with any car you've owned for years, and the seller has no way of knowing what might happen, so don't take it out on them if a problem shows up weeks later.

There are some rare occasions where a seller, typically a new-car dealer, will allow you to rent a used car by the day or week. The cost of renting is much higher than a monthly car payment, but it gives you the chance to back out of buying the car if there's something you don't like or needs to be fixed. If you're really lucky, the seller may offer to put your rent dollars toward the purchase price of the car. That was a fairly common practice at the Chrysler dealership I used to work at.
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Thursday, September 8th, 2016 AT 11:55 PM
Tiny
WRENCHTECH
  • EXPERT
There is something wrong with your statement.

You state it was fully repaired by insurance. That's not possible. The way it got a salvage title in the first place is because the insurance company totaled the car and declined to fix it. Someone bought it after that point and decided to repair it after the insurance company declined to.
That title will stick with it for life and makes the car almost worthless on the open market so consider this carefully.
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Friday, September 9th, 2016 AT 3:04 AM

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