Salvage title for US imported cars: Deception at its finest!

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Every year, millions of vehicles in the United States are declared salvage. Very often these cars are rebuilt and sold by deceptive sellers who fail to disclose or even try to hide the salvage information. Exact figures are unknown, but CARFAX Europe estimates that each year there are tens of thousands of these salvage titled vehicles exported to Europe.

While not all salvage titled vehicles should be avoided, buyers should always be aware of what they are purchasing. CARFAX Europe helps consumers protect themselves from unknowingly buying imported US salvage cars.

What is a Vehicle Salvage Title?

All vehicles in the United States have a title that is issued by a state motor vehicle agency. This document evidences ownership of the vehicle and also records certain important information about it. If a vehicle has been designated “salvage,” it may indicate that the vehicle is not roadworthy due to being damaged in an accident, flood, fire, or other event. “Salvage” can have a different meaning in each of the fifty states because every state passes its own laws defining what “salvage” means. In many states, a salvage title is issued when a vehicle is damaged and the cost of repairing the vehicle would exceed 75% of its pre-damage value. But this damage threshold varies by state.

If a vehicle has been declared a total loss by an insurance company, that vehicle can also be issued a salvage title. Often the insurance companies have different criteria than motor vehicle agencies for determining if a vehicle is totaled.

A buyer of a vehicle with a salvage title should be aware that it does not always indicate that a vehicle was damaged or destroyed. In some states, such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma and Oregon, a salvage title can also indicate that a vehicle was stolen.

How many salvage titles are on European roads?

Infographic salvage title

In the last 6 years, over 20% of used U.S. cars imported into Europe came with a salvage title reported to CARFAX (the overall number can be even higher). This amounts to 184,609 vehicles. This means that in the whole of Europe, when buying a U.S. import car, you have a 1 in 5 chance that it has a salvage title. This risk can be avoided by getting a CARFAX Vehicle History Report.

Which countries are importing the most cars with a salvage title?

There is a wide range of countries importing U.S. cars with a salvage title; some relatively few, and others disproportionately many. Here is the list of the top 8 countries from the last 6 years:

  • Lithuania (49%): Out of 157,507 U.S. imports, 77,275 have a salvage title.
  • Georgia (45.4%): Out of 57,819 U.S. imports, 26,220 have a salvage title.
  • Poland (36.2%): Out of 32,220 U.S. imports, 11,663 have a salvage title.
  • Italy (15%): Out of 18,977 U.S. imports, 2,867 have a salvage title.
  • Netherlands (9.6%): Out of 34,558 U.S. imports, 3,314 have a salvage title.
  • Germany (7.3%): Out of 278,256 U.S. imports, 20,206 have a salvage title.
  • Finland (6.3%): Out of 50,339 U.S. imports, 3,176 have a salvage title.
  • Belgium (2.9%): Out of 67,809 U.S. imports, 1,965 have a salvage title.

While many cars are imported into these countries, it doesn’t mean that they stay there. In many cases, the vehicles are imported, repaired, and then sold into other European countries. Because of this practice, it’s especially important that you inform yourself about the vehicle’s history before buying a U.S. import car.

Which brands are the most popular?

The American car market has a plethora of vehicles to choose from. This means there is a very wide range of makes and models being imported into Europe. Here is a list of some popular brands, as well as how many have a salvage title:

  • Audi (46%): Out of 14,813 U.S. imports, 6,824 have a salvage title.
  • Volkswagen (43%): Out of 34,528 U.S. imports, 14,905 have a salvage title.
  • Toyota (35%): Out of 97,026 U.S. imports, 34,069 have a salvage title.
  • Lexus (20%): Out of 41,142 U.S. imports, 8,229 have a salvage title.
  • Ford (18%): Out of 35,726 U.S. imports, 6,288 have a salvage title.
  • Mercedes-Benz (14%): Out of 132,039 U.S. imports, 19,122 have a salvage title.

Reduce the risk of buying a salvages used car: Ask for the CARFAX!

CARFAX Europe has information on 150 million cars in Europe and knows all used cars in the United States and Canada. Whenever looking to buy a used car, always check the vehicle history before you buy. CARFAX’s Vehicle History Reports can provide you with useful information regarding the number of registered owners, if the car has odometer manipulation, flood damage, a salvage title and much more.

Beware Salvage Title Fraud

If a vehicle has had a salvage title, the seller should disclose this fact. In most of the states within the US, this disclosure is mandated by law. Unfortunately, sellers do not always reveal salvage titles to potential buyers. Every year, thousands of salvage cars are sold to unsuspecting consumers and returned to the roads without proper repair. Unscrupulous sellers alter title documents and make cheap superficial repairs to salvaged vehicles which make the vehicles appear to be safe, both on paper and by a casual visual inspection. But these vehicles are unsafe and dangerous.

There are a number of common scams associated with salvaged vehicles. One is called title washing. In this case, a seller moves a salvage vehicle from one state to another and registers the vehicle in the second state without indicating that the vehicle has a salvage title. A new title is issued without any indication of the previous salvage title. If the vehicle is then exported to Europe, the documentation will not indicate that it is a salvage car and a buyer would be unaware f the potential hazard they are buying.

Another problem associated with salvage vehicles is called car clipping. In car clipping, multiple wrecked vehicles are literally sawed apart and then the ends of the separate vehicles are welded together. For example, the front end of one salvage vehicle may be welded on to the back end of another vehicle. Clipped vehicles can be difficult for the average used car shopper to detect.

car accident information

Rebuilt Salvage Titles

Not all salvage cars need to be destroyed. In fact, salvage vehicles that are properly repaired or restored can be safely and legally returned to the road. Following repair work, many states will inspect a vehicle to decide if it is roadworthy. If the vehicle passes the inspection, it is issued a “rebuilt title” by many states. The level of intensity of the inspection process differs from state to state. Some states require that the owner produce receipts for every component part that was used in the repair process. This also assures that stolen parts were not used in the restoration.

Buying a used car with a salvage title might be a great investment, but it is important to have all the information before you buy a salvage car so that you understand the extent of the prior damage that resulted in the salvage title being issued. If you are considering buying an imported US car with a rebuilt salvage title, we recommend that you make sure the proper repairs were made. You may want to request copies of receipts for the repair work or even speak with the mechanic who repaired the vehicle.

Avoiding Salvage Title Fraud

When buying a used car imported from the US, always ask the seller to provide the title document. To determine if it has been issued some form of a salvage title, inspect the document and look for wording that could indicate a salvage title. The wording can vary from state to state. If the words totaled, reconditioned, salvaged, junked, rebuilt, or warranty returned appear on the title, then it is a salvage vehicle. In some states, salvage titles are printed on specially colored paper.

If the wording on the title appears clean, then examine the document closely for signs of physical alteration. Proceed with extreme caution if the title looks like it has been manipulated in any way.

But examining the most recent title is not enough to assure that there was never previously a salvage title issued for the vehicle. To better protect yourself, we recommend that you order a CARFAX Vehicle History Report through CARFAX receives vehicle history information from every U.S. and Canadian motor vehicle agency and will have the information if a vehicle has ever been issued a salvage title. Additionally, CARFAX may have crucial information about a vehicle even in the cases where a salvage title was NOT issued by a state motor vehicle agency, but was declared a total loss by an insurance company.

In addition to getting the CARFAX Report before you buy an imported US used car, we recommend that you take a test drive and have the car inspected by a qualified mechanic.

Whether you are buying a used US vehicle that is coming directly from America or an imported US car that has already been in Europe for a period of time, if the vehicle was ever registered in the US, you need to know its full history. CARFAX can help.