Salvage cars and junk cars are a special category of vehicles. Each year, more than 3½ million salvage cars are created in the United States. The vast majority of them are sold on an ongoing basis, at a variety of auctions located throughout the country.
Perhaps you know of someone who bought a salvage car for below-market prices, fixed it up, and had a nice car to drive for several years. Maybe you’ve never heard of a salvage car at all. Either way, let us now fill you in on all the ins and outs of the salvage and junk car auction scene.
How salvage car auctions work
There are many auctions, located throughout the country, that sell different types of vehicles to buyers interested in purchasing them. Certain auctions focus on salvage cars, which come in a steady stream from the various auto insurance providers.
Salvage cars auctions can be in-person, online, or a combination of both. While you must travel to the auction site to participate in an in-person salvage car auction, you can attend any online salvage car auction from the comfort of your own home or office. Here’s how they work:
1. Research, search for, and find a salvage car or cars that you would like to bid on
This is the part where the more research you do, the better results you will have. Start by selecting the make and model of salvage vehicle or vehicles that you are interested in buying. Look for the salvage cars that have the least amount of damage – these should be the easier and less expensive ones to repair. Decide on the maximum amount that you are willing to pay for each salvage car you will be bidding on – include all of the auction and broker fees, as well as the cost to transport it back to your location. Start with salvage car auctions that are closest to your home – that keeps your transportation costs down.
2. Find and select a broker if you wish to participate in a dealers-only auction
Try to find a broker that can bid on the exact vehicles you are interested in buying. Pick one who is a good communicator and will look out for you during the entire auction process. There’s more on brokers below.
3. Open an account with the auction or broker
You must be a bidder in good standing, or be set up with a registered broker, before you can purchase a salvage car at an auction.
4. Decide in advance what your highest bid for a given salvage car will be
It is easy to get carried away by the bidding at a salvage car auction, but you must avoid overpaying for a salvage car. Many auction sites will let you preset your maximum bid online, or you can let your broker know how high you are willing to go. Remember that all of the additional fees (and transportation) should be accounted for in your total spend, since those items must be paid before you can get your salvage car home.
5. Observe/participate in the bidding
Keep in mind that there will be a lot of experienced salvage car auction buyers at any given salvage car auction. Watch and learn from them. Be disciplined and don’t get too attached to any specific salvage car. If you don’t get one, you can try for another (that’s why you should have a list of more than one). If you don’t win today, you can try again at the next salvage car auction. If you are using a broker, ask him or her for feedback as to how the auction went.
6. Arrange for payment and transportation if you are top bidder
If you got a salvage car, congratulations! Once that you have paid for it, along with the fees, you can let your transportation resource know that it should be delivered to you. Now get to work on fixing that salvage car up!
When do you need a broker for a salvage car auction?
If you want to bid on salvage cars at an auction that is designated for dealers only, then you must use a broker to bid on your behalf. Why? Because only licensed dealers and registered brokers are allowed to bid at these events. While there are many salvage car auctions that allow members of the public to bid, some of the largest ones that handle high volumes of salvage cars do not.
Many brokers work with specific salvage car auctions, although some may be connected to more than one auction company. The best way to start is to search for and find the auction that is offering the salvage car or cars you are interested in, and then select a broker that is approved by and connected to that auction.
The most important thing to remember about working with a broker is this:
You are buying through the broker, not through the auction itself.
This means that you must not only vet the broker to make sure that you can work with them, you must also understand and conform to the broker’s terms and conditions before you start working with them. Be aware of their fees and their payment requirements.
The benefits of working with a broker include pre-bid inspections, bidding advice, buying tips, repair services if needed, and transportation assistance. In exchange for the fees they charge you for their services, they can also provide you with an insider’s perspective and experience. That’s worth a lot in the fast-paced world of salvage car auctions!
Here’s a Buyer Eligibility by State guide that will let you know who can buy vehicles at a salvage auction, based on each state’s regulations. Currently, about 30 states require an individual public buyer to use a broker to buy salvage cars at auction (some exceptions apply).
Tips for using salvage auctions
Here are some helpful hints for making your salvage car auction experience as positive and cost-effective as possible:
Do your homework and do it well
Before you start bidding on a particular salvage car, you need to know as much about it as you possibly can. Your objective is to weed out the lemons and pick yourself a winner, by:
- Knowing its history by getting a Vehicle History Report
- Checking the title
- Comparing the salvage car’s listed damage and loss type to its current appearance (some sketchy repairs may have already been made to it)
- Determining the car’s value (start with the Used Car Book Value, then subtract the damage plus a bit more)
- Avoiding flood cars at all times – they may look good, but will be trouble down the road
- Inspecting the salvage car (or having it inspected) before bidding starts
- Estimating what repairs will cost (remember, it will have to pass a state inspection)
- Focusing on salvage cars that need the least amount of repairs to be roadworthy
- Getting receipts for repair work that was already done to the vehicles you purchase (you will need these at inspection time)
Discipline yourself during the auction process
It is essential to keep your wits about you and stay focused before, during, and after the bidding at a salvage car auction. This includes:
- Arriving early at an in-person auction to get a thorough look at your selected salvage cars
- Understanding that auction’s bidding process ahead of time
- Setting a maximum bid that you will not exceed
- Having other vehicles researched and selected in case you don’t get your top choice
- A willingness to call it quits if there are no other appropriate salvage cars to bid on
- Not getting drawn into a “bidding war” for any given vehicle
- Remembering that all salvage cars are sold “as is,” so Buyer Beware!
- Selecting salvage car auctions that have a reputation for good customer service, in case there is a problem
- Promptly paying for and having your salvage car hauled away, to avoid late fees and storage fees
List of salvage car auctions
There are many salvage car auctions, located throughout the United States. This is thanks to the fact that drivers in every part of this great land, and during every hour of the day and night, are involved in incidents that result in their vehicles being declared total losses. Their losses are your gain!
Wherever you are located (unless it’s WAY out there), there should be a salvage car auction somewhere in the general vicinity. We invite you to use our handy list below to find the right salvage car auction for you.
IAAI (Insurance Auto Auctions Inc.)
Two Westbrook Corporate Center
Westchester, IL 60154
Pros: Huge company with lots of salvage cars, public access to some auctions
Cons: Public access to some salvage car auctions requires a broker
Known as both IAAI and IAA, this giant of the salvage car auction business has been around since 1982. IAAI is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It offers 178 US locations plus 2 virtual auctions, as well as 16 locations in Canada and 11 in the UK. Some of IAAI’s auctions are open to the public, while others are dealers-only (unless you use a broker). As its name implies, this auction company sells large quantities of insurance companies’ total-loss vehicles.
IAAI lets you bid and buy online through their website, using live auctioneers. It also offers timed auctions and even a Buy Now option (called I-Buy Fast) on certain vehicles, if you don’t want to deal with bidding.
Registered buyers can log in to see the fee schedule and can also pre-calculate the buyer fees for any vehicle directly from its Vehicle Information page.
Payment options include Cash, Money Orders, Certified Funds, Wire Transfer, I-Pay (ACH), Credit Cards, PayPal, and IAA Account Credit.
Registration is required by IAA to bid in their auctions. You have the following registration options:
- Register as a Guest, free of charge (no bidding privileges)
- Register for a bidding account as a member of the Public (individual)
- Register for a bidding account as a Licensed Business buyer
Public: Public buyers don’t need a business license. They can bid at locations open to the public and on inventory that is available to the public. These limitations are set by the individual state and public access is limited at some branches. For online bidding, salvage cars available to the public are identified with a “P” icon. Public buyers can choose to use the services of a licensed broker to get access to non-public auctions.
Public buyers can complete an online registration form and upload a government-issued photo ID with your signature and residential address. Pay the $200 annual membership fee online by credit card and you’re good to go!
Licensed Business: To register as a Licensed Business buyer, you must complete the online Registration form and upload a valid government-issued photo ID (bearing your picture, signature and your home address), a copy of your business license, a notarized English translation of the business license (if the original was not in English), and your tax license (if applicable).
Within the US, you can register as a Licensed Business buyer with any type of business license, regardless of your business activity (automotive or non-automotive related). However, non-automotive businesses will not be able to use a Resale Certificate to exempt themselves from sales taxes. Next, pay the annual membership fee online by credit card. You can add additional bidders to your account for an annual cost of $100 per additional bidder.
IAAI sale fees
Sale price $0 to $49 = $25 buyer fee
Sale price $50 to $99 = $35 buyer fee
Sale price $100 to $199 = $55 buyer fee
Sale price $200 to $299 = $80 buyer fee
Sale price $300 to $399 = $95 buyer fee
Sale price $400 to $499 = $120 buyer fee
Sale price $500 to $599 = $125 buyer fee
Sale price $600 to $799 = $140 buyer fee
Sale price $800 to $999 = $165 buyer fee
Sale price $1000 to $1199 = $200 buyer fee
Sale price $1200 to $1399 = $225 buyer fee
Sale price $1400 to $1699 = $245 buyer fee
Sale price $1700 to $1899 = $250 buyer fee
Sale price $1900 to $1999 = $295 buyer fee
Sale price $2000 to $2999 = $330 buyer fee
Sale price $3000 to $3499 = $365 buyer fee
Sale price $3500 to $4999 = $365 buyer fee
Sale price $5000 and up = $365 buyer fee
Please note that if the stock number you are bidding on is awarded to you via the internet, then an internet fee will apply. Internet fees are:
Selling price $0 to $99 = $0 fee
Selling price $100 to $499 = $29 fee
Selling price $500 to $999 = $39 fee
Selling price $1000 to $2499 = $49 fee
Selling price $2500 + = $59
All IAA facilities charge a standard $30 pullout fee per unit.
700 N Hayden Island Drive
Portland, OR 97217
+1 (360) 347-1300
SCA Auctions LLC
15173B NE 21St Ave
North Miami Beach FL 33162
1914 E Euclid Av Ste B
Des Moines, IA 50313
Bid N Drive Inc. (serving buyers in US and Cambodia)
2305 Fourth St
Tucker, GA 30084
+1 (888) 503-0383
+1 (850) 319-3467
Cars West LLC (serving buyers in US and Ukraine)
1655 E Sixth st A4
Corona, CA 92879 USA
Boacon Autos (serving buyers in US and Nigeria)
1382 Hicks Blvd
Fairfield, OH 45014
Ocean West Auto Group LLC (serving buyers in US, Germany, Bulgaria, and soon Nigeria)
100 SE 2nd Street Suite 2000
Miami FL 33131
+1 305 285 8417
14185 Dallas Parkway
Dallas, TX 75254
Pros: Large company with huge selection of salvage cars, some public access
Cons: Broker required for access to dealer-only salvage car auctions
Along with IAAI, Copart is one of the two largest salvage auction companies that will sell to the public. Copart was started in 1982. From one salvage yard in Vallejo, California, this major salvage car auction operator has grown to 200 locations, covering 8,000 acres across 11 countries, including:
- The UK
- The United Arab Emirates
On any given day, Copart offers over 175,000 vehicles for auction, both salvage cars and those with clean titles. Copart has been publicly traded on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange since 1994, under the symbol CPRT. The company’s website, Copart.com, was launched in 1996. Copart moved to a fully online model in 2003, one that now links buyers and sellers around the world. Copart’s VB3 Virtual Bidding Technology allows for online pre-bidding and auction bidding in real time, from computers, tablets, and phones, using multiple browsers as well as a dedicated app.
For those who prefer in-person auctions, those are also available. In addition to traditional passenger vehicles, Copart also auctions motorcycles, classic cars, boats, ATVs, and exotics.
Copart sells to both licensed and unlicensed (public) buyers, although a smaller vehicle selection will be available to those public salvage car buyers. Individual public buyers are welcome to use the services of a Copart sponsored broker, which allows access to most of Copart’s huge salvage car inventory. Third-party inspections, informational reports, and Copart condition reports are also available, so you can better know what you are buying.
Copart Member Bidding and Buying Fees
Schedule A applies to the following:
Members with a non-U.S. address OR a business license on file
AND with 12+ purchases over last 365 days
AND with 4 or fewer associated bidder accounts
Schedule B applies to the following:
Schedule A Members using non-secure payments
Schedule C applies to the following:
Members with a U.S. address AND no business license on file
OR with 11 or fewer purchases over last 365 days
OR with 5+ associated bidder accounts
Schedule D applies to the following:
Schedule C Members using non-secure payments
Secure Funds payment types include money order, wire transfer, ePay, cash, available funds, cashier’s check, company funds, and third-party financing. Non-Secure Funds payment types include credit cards and debit cards.
US Copart Locations
|Standard Vehicle Sale Price Range||Fee A||Fee B||Fee C||Fee D|
|$0.01 - $49.99||$1.00||$27.50||$25.00||$27.50|
|$50.00 - $99.99||$1.00||$40.00||$45.00||$50.00|
|$100.00 - $199.99||$25.00||$65.00||$80.00||$90.00|
|$200.00 - $299.99||$50.00||$90.00||$120.00||$135.00|
|$300.00 - $349.99||$75.00||$110.00||$120.00||$137.50|
|$350.00 - $399.99||$75.00||$110.00||$120.00||$140.00|
|$400.00 - $449.99||$110.00||$130.00||$160.00||$182.50|
|$450.00 - $499.99||$110.00||$130.00||$160.00||$185.00|
|$500.00 - $549.99||$125.00||$150.00||$185.00||$212.50|
|$550.00 - $599.99||$130.00||$150.00||$185.00||$215.00|
|$600.00 - $699.99||$140.00||$170.00||$210.00||$245.00|
|$700.00 - $799.99||$155.00||$190.00||$230.00||$270.00|
|$800.00 - $899.99||$170.00||$210.00||$250.00||$295.00|
|$900.00 - $999.99||$185.00||$230.00||$275.00||$325.00|
|$1,000.00 - $1,199.99||$200.00||$255.00||$325.00||$385.00|
|$1,200.00 - $1,299.99||$225.00||$290.00||$350.00||$415.00|
|$1,300.00 - $1,399.99||$240.00||$305.00||$365.00||$435.00|
|$1,400.00 - $1,499.99||$250.00||$315.00||$380.00||$455.00|
|$1,500.00 - $1,599.99||$260.00||$325.00||$390.00||$470.00|
|$1,600.00 - $1,699.99||$275.00||$345.00||$410.00||$495.00|
|$1,700.00 - $1,799.99||$285.00||$355.00||$420.00||$510.00|
|$1,800.00 - $1,999.99||$300.00||$375.00||$440.00||$540.00|
|$2,000.00 - $2,399.99||$325.00||$415.00||$470.00||$590.00|
|$2,400.00 - $2,499.99||$335.00||$425.00||$480.00||$605.00|
|$2,500.00 - $2,999.99||$350.00||$455.00||$500.00||$650.00|
|$3,000.00 - $3,499.99||$400.00||$565.00||$600.00||$775.00|
|$3,500.00 - $3,999.99||$450.00||$615.00||$650.00||$850.00|
|$4,000.00 - $4,499.99||$475.00||$640.00||$675.00||$900.00|
|$4,500.00 - $4,999.99||$500.00||$665.00||$700.00||$950.00|
|$5,000.00 - $5,999.99||$525.00||$765.00||$725.00||$975.00|
|$6,000.00 - $7,499.99||$550.00||$790.00||$750.00||$1,000.00|
|$7,500.00 - $9,999.99||$575.00||$890.00||$775.00||$1,025.00|
|$10,000.00 - $14,999.99||$600.00||$1050.00||$800.00||$1,050.00|
|$15,000.00 - $19,999.99||4%||9%||7%||12%|
|$20,000.00 - $24,999.99||4%||9%||7%||12%|
|$25,000.00 - $29,999.99||4%||9%||7%||12%|
|$30,000.00 - $34,999.99||4%||9%||7%||12%|
|$35,000.00 - $10,000,000.00||4%||9%||7%||12%|
A $59.00 Gate Fee is assessed to all Copart purchases. This fee covers administrative costs and the movement of the item to the Buyer loading area. Other fees may apply.
All preliminary and live bids placed through terminals, members’ computers, smartphones, tablets or other bidding devices will incur additional Internet Bid Fees, based on the high bid amount.
A Better Bid California
2821 S Industrial Dr. Unit B
Bloomington, CA 92316
+1 (424) 645 7945
A Better Bid LLC
15431 W Dixie Hwy, Bay 3
North Miami Beach, FL 33162
+1 (786) 801 3441
A Better Bid Texas
20700 Frankie Ln
Pflugerville, TX 78660
+1 (469) 224 0573
Auto Bid Master
6807 NE 79th Ct
Portland, OR 97218
(503) 298 4300
Salvage Autos Auction
4811 Lyons Technology Pkwy
Coconut Creek, Fl 3307.
4811 Lyons Technology Pkwy
Coconut Creek, Fl 3307.
Advance Motors LLC
888 West Commerce Dr
Traverse City, MI 49685
+1 (231) 346 3400
12420 N Station Rd
Columbia Station, OH 44028
(866) 236 5031
Crabtree Auto Sales
4970 W St Rd 44
Liberty, IN 47353
+1 (765) 458 7210
Preferred Auto Brokers
6901 S Yosemite St #106
Centennial, CO 80112
+1 (303) 783 2122
Easyexport.us (serving buyers in US, Russia, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland)
1970 NE 153rd Street Unit 1
North Miami Beach FL 33162
Alpine Auto Gallery LLC (serving buyers in US and around the world)
1039-1045 Market Street
Paterson, NJ 07513
+1 (973) 881 1200
AAA Auto Sales Inc (serving buyers in US and around the world)
60 Asbury Rd
Hackettstown, NJ 07840
Auto Auction Mall
Serving buyers in the US, Nigeria, and Ghana
20200 W. Dixie Hwy, Suite 1001
Miami, Florida 33180
Pros: Access to many dealer-only salvage car auctions, simple flat fee structure, low security deposit, free membership
Cons: Originating auction fees are additional
Auto Auction Mall (AAM) acts as an independent broker, providing access for individuals without dealer licenses to dealer-only auctions through their huge online marketplace. AAM claims to help more than 200,000 buyers to find great deals, each and every month. Auto Auction Mall offers both salvage cars and clean titled vehicles. Some vehicles are sold with “Buy Now” pricing. AAM’s customer support team will assist you every step of the way, including transportation and financing for your purchase. Membership is free.
Fees and costs
Auto Auction Mall has a very simple fee structure, which is in addition to the originating auction’s own buyer’s fees (for which the AAM website provides a fee calculator):
- Vehicle Purchase Price $0 to $3,499 $249
Vehicle Purchase Price $3,500+ $299
- Documentation Fee $75
- A 10% Security Deposit is also required before bidding starts
Global Auto Auctions
4514 Cole Avenue
Dallas, TX 75205
Pros: Consolidated access to numerous salvage car auctions on one site, insurance company vehicles only, registration fee is applied to your purchase, simplified fee structure, refund and guarantee policies
Cons: Not much
Global Auto Auctions (GAA) also acts as an independent broker, consolidating salvage cars from many different auctions into one website. GAA claims to list over 50,000 vehicles each week, from 700 different auction locations both within and outside the US. Global Auto Auctions offers both a 30-day guarantee and a 100% money back guarantee, as well as a refund policy. GAA sells only vehicles from insurance companies, eliminating any undesirable vehicles with hidden damage being dumped by dealers or body shops. Global Auto Auctions agents work on salary, not commission, so they have no incentive to influence the bidding.
Fees and costs
A $150 registration fee is required, but it is applied against your purchase and is transferable within two years, if you don’t find a salvage car to purchase. Higher-level tiers of GAA membership are also available, called Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Premier VIP. These add additional buyer services and some fee reductions, as well as increased access to more insurance auctions. Check here for more details.
Here are the GAA fees, based on the cost of your salvage car purchase:
48 Cherry Street
Mount Clemens, Michigan 48043
Pros: Completely open to the public, no license required, proxy pre-bidding system
Cons: Originating auction fees additional, inventory includes damaged vehicles from dealers – watch out for those!
eRepairables acts as a salvage car broker, offering a selection of over 130,000 salvage cars for sale from over 400 seller locations in the US. eRepairables combines damaged car inventories from both dealers and auctions. They claim more than 300,000 satisfied users. There is no dealership license required and eRepairables is open to the public.
Fees and costs
A 20% cash deposit is required for bidding, based on your planned bid amount. The particular auction that you purchase your salvage car from will charge a fee based on the sale price of the vehicle. while eRepairables charges a brokerage fee on top of that. Total fees are calculated based on your proxy bid, and do not require an actual bid to see those fees.
Once that you register, a proxy pre-bidding system allows you to bid online for multiple auctions, even those that are dealer-only. Having the highest proxy bid will allow you to purchase that vehicle, at or below your proxy bid. eRepairables bids only the minimum amount needed to win the auction, as long as that amount is below your proxy bid. You will be notified whether you have won or lost an auction within 24 hours, in most cases. Financing and shipping resources are available.
78 Cabot Blvd East
Langhorne, PA 19047
Additional locations in Nurnberg, Germany & Kiev, Ukraine
Pros: Some IAAI and Copart inventory, open to the public, 700 auctions on one website, flat-rate pricing
Cons: The originating auction fees are additional
RideSafely is an independent broker (although some of their inventory appears to come from IAAI and Copart auctions). offers 65,000 vehicles from the US daily, consisting of both clean title and salvage cars, consolidating more than 700 auctions on a single website.
Bidders can search for salvage cars only, by year, make, model, vehicle type, distance from their zip code, region, and even country. Statistical data, business case analyses, and individual custom research services are available.
Fees and costs
RideSafely offers a flat rate $299 transaction fee for any item over $1,000, plus an $85 documentation fee. A fee calculator is available on the site. Buyer’s fees from the originating auction are additional. RideSafely also offers “Buy Now” inventory, for those who don’t wish to participate in the bidding process.
EZ Auto Auction
8117 Preston Road Suite 300
Dallas Texas 75225
- - -
8888 Keystone Crossing Suite 1300
Indianapolis, IN 46240
Pros: Wide variety of salvage cars, all sourced from insurance companies
Cons: Not a live auction but a proxy bidding site, watch out for flood cars and avoid them!
EZAUTOAUCTION.COM calls itself a “global vehicle re-marketer with the largest selection of inventory compared to other competing sites.” It offers vehicles of all types, including salvage cars, flood cars, and those with clean titles. These vehicles are sourced solely and directly from many different insurance auctions and insurance companies that are located throughout North America.
Be aware that EZAUTOAUCTION.COM is not actually a live auction and does not own or possess any of its inventory. It is a real proxy bidding site, benefitting from its parent company’s (AIA Direct Inc.) longstanding relationships with the insurance companies. Here’s how it works:
Users first make an offer on a given salvage car. EZAUTOAUCTION.COM then presents the highest offer made for that vehicle to the affiliated insurance company. If the insurance company accepts the offer, that buyer has purchased the vehicle.
EZAUTOAUCTION.COM’s agents work on salary and not commission, so they are free to provide guidance on salvage cars that is in the buyer’s best interest. For bargain hunters, the website also has a special selection of flood-damaged, hail-damaged, and other salvage cars with Buy Now prices under $1,000.
Fees and costs
Similar to GAA, EZAUTOAUCTION.COM has a required registration fee of $150, but it is applied against your purchase and is transferable within two years, should you be unable to purchase a salvage car.
Here is the EZAUTOAUCTION.COM Buyer’s Fee Schedule:
11299 N. Illinois Street
Carmel, IN 46032
Pros: Large auction company with a global footprint
Cons: Focused primarily on sales to dealers, only one public salvage car auction, not worth your time unless you reside in Cincinnati/Dayton OH area
While ADESA is a huge operation, with more than 200 locations across the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, and claiming recent sales of over 3.4 million vehicles in a single year, they rank low on our list for a good reason. ADESA is operated primarily for the benefit of dealers, not individual consumers. In fact, out of their hundreds of locations, they offer only a single public salvage car auction in the US. If you are interested and located nearby, here it is:
4400 William C. Good Blvd
Franklin OH 45003
This location currently offers a Vehicle Repo Auction (of repossessed vehicles) every Tuesday, plus a monthly Marine, RV, and Powersports Repo Auction on the first Friday of the month.
Fees and costs
A non-refundable registration fee of $20 must be paid on each visit to the auction. A $500 per vehicle deposit is required, for which a that-day-only bid badge will be issued. The balance of your purchase is due in full on the following business day by 5:00 p.m., in cash or certified funds. All vehicles will be subject to a buy fee based upon the sale price of the vehicle. No guests are allowed, only registered bidders with bid badges. No one under 18 is allowed.
A word of warning
The fact that this huge outfit has over 200 locations but only one public auction should raise a big red flag in potential public bidders’ minds. ADESA is an auction company that depends on dealers for nearly all of its business. It is only natural that the best vehicles will go to the dealers. If you should choose to use their public auction, be very sure about the quality of the vehicles you are bidding on. It is not unheard of for unwanted “bottom of the barrel” vehicles on dealer lots, those that are unfixable and unsaleable, to make their way to a public auction, where unwary buyers purchase them. We suggest that you look elsewhere, as this is highly unlikely to be your best salvage car option.
825 Levee Dr.
Manhattan, KS 66502
Pros: No reserve policy, low fees, some good deals on used cars and pickups
Cons: Midwest-focused area of operation not convenient for East and West Coasters, lots of non-passenger vehicle inventory from farms, construction companies, and trucking outfits
Purple Wave is a different type of auction company. In addition to the usual passenger vehicles and pickups, the company also sells construction equipment, agricultural equipment, commercial trucks, large semi-trucks and trailers, and also operates government-owned vehicle auctions. All auctions are no-reserve.
Unfortunately, Purple Wave does not offer many salvage cars, but you may find some really good used car deals here, thanks to the no-reserve policy.
Purple Wave’s area of operation covers the entire center section of the country, from North Dakota down to Texas, and from Colorado to Kentucky. Purple Wave does not require the auctioned vehicles to be moved from the seller’s location, saving unnecessary transportation costs.
Fees and costs
Purple Wave is a relative bargain, charging only a 10% buyer’s fee when you win an auction. That’s it. Large bids (those over $10,000) may require additional qualification.
Useful resources for salvage car buyers
autoAstat is a site that can provide you with the results, statistics, and history of previously-held IAAI and Copart auctions. How many? At the time of writing, the site listed 6,932,281 IAAI lots and 9,095,308 lots, with the total increasing every day there’s a new auction. These results can be easily searched by VIN, lot number, technical parameters of the vehicle, or auction details. Individual vehicle reports are also available.
If you are trying to establish what a given salvage car is worth and how much to bid, the information on autoAstat can be very helpful. The site also available in both Russian and Ukrainian, for buyers from those areas.
Fees and costs
There are three levels of autoAstat membership available:
- Free: You get unlimited searches, but you can only go back 12 months
- Personal ($14.95/mo.): You get unlimited searches, but you can go back 2 years and search in much more detail
- Pro ($49.95/mo.): You get unlimited searches and can access information back to 2017, plus additional benefits
Bidmate is a useful tool that can be used access a great number of salvage auctions. The Salvage Pools/Bidmate landing page has links to 25 salvage car websites, which offer a total of close to 60,000 salvage cars from more than 320 separate auctions. IAAI, Copart, and Manheim auctions are all part of the Bidmate system. Bidmate is used primarily by the auto dismantling/recycling industry as a software tool.
Bidmate was designed to run on desktop computers, as well as laptops and tablets. In addition to locating salvage car auctions in your area, Bidmate makes it easy to sort, evaluate, and calculate the values of salvage cars. This is a site that is well worth checking out when you are looking for a salvage car to buy.
Fees and costs
The Bidmate software is sold on a subscription basis through a network of regional sales representatives. Support and training is also available. You can find the sales rep for your area here.
Some takeaways from our journey through the salvage car world
As you have probably gathered from our article so far, there are both great rewards and great risks for those who venture into junk car auctions.
What is a salvage car?
In the simplest terms, a salvage car is a vehicle that has been declared a total loss by an insurance company. Why has it been declared a total loss? The answer to that is based a calculation that the insurance company makes, usually following an accident or other type of damage-causing event that the vehicle in question has been involved in:
It will cost too much to fix the vehicle, compared to its value once it is repaired.
There are liability issues involved that need to be avoided.
Bottom line, the insurance company has decided to remove that vehicle from its books, for either financial or liability reasons, or sometimes a combination of both. Declaring such a vehicle as a total loss turns it into a salvage car, which places it into another world, one with its own set of rules.
There can be many reasons for declaring a vehicle to be a total loss:
- It is severely damaged
- It is lightly damaged, but will require some very expensive parts to repair it
- It is older and/or has high mileage, so it carries a low value and is not worth fixing
- It has been damaged by fire
- It has been in a flood, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, severe hailstorm, or other natural disaster
- It has been stolen, possibly damaged and/or stripped for parts, and recovered
- It was badly damaged in a civil disturbance, such as a riot
The threshold for determining whether a car is a total loss will vary from state to state. It will range from a repair cost that is somewhere between 50% and 100% of the car’s value before the incident. Some states do not set a percentage, but instead allow the insurance company to determine whether the car is worth fixing.
The insurance company will usually pay the owner what the car was worth before the accident and will then take ownership of the vehicle, rebranding it with a salvage title. The salvage car’s next stop is a salvage car auction, where the insurance company will sell the vehicle (and many others like it) to the highest bidder, quickly recouping some of the money that was paid out to the car owner. This is the point at which a salvage car gets a chance at another life, either as a complete vehicle or as parts to keep other cars like it running a while longer.
Salvage cars receive salvage titles
Once that a vehicle becomes a salvage car, its title becomes a salvage title. This signifies that the insurance company has deemed the vehicle to be a total loss, and that this fact must be disclosed to anyone who intends to purchase it. Even though a salvage car can be repaired and returned to service under certain conditions, it will always be identified as salvage. It will never be able to have a clean title like most normal cars do, regardless of how well it has been fixed up.
Salvage cars with salvage titles must first pass a state inspection before they can be licensed for use on the road. Once that a salvage car passes this inspection, it can receive a “rebuilt” or “reconstructed” title, which allows it to be licensed. A salvage car can also be resold once it achieves rebuilt status.
The pros and cons of buying a salvage vehicle
While there are many advantages to buying a salvage car, there are just as many pitfalls for the unwary. Here are the reasons, both for and against:
The reasons to buy a salvage car
There are many good reasons to buy a salvage car, once you know the basics. Here are a few of them:
1. Salvage cars are extremely affordable, with very low opening bids
Because salvage cars are considered to be less desirable vehicles than those with a clean title, they sell for much lower prices at salvage car auctions – up to 50% lower! This means that you can pick a salvage car up for an extremely appealing price.
2. There are salvage cars in excellent condition, with little damage
Some salvage cars are actually in good running condition, with just some bodywork needed to get them back on the road again. Some salvage cars may have been a little too old (and depreciated too much) to justify the cost of repairs, even though that cost may be reasonable. Some salvage cars may have hail damage, which is totally cosmetic and does not affect the mechanical condition. A salvage car may have been near to, but not in, a fire, with some smoke damage to the finish but no other issues.
The definition of exactly what the insurance companies decide is a total loss can vary, sending many minimally-damaged cars to a salvage car auction. Sometimes it’s just easier and quicker for them to total a vehicle, instead of dealing with adjusters, body shops, and any additional liability down the road. These are precisely the kinds of salvage cars you might want to buy.
3. Salvage cars offer a wide variety of vehicles
There are around 280 million vehicles registered to operate on the roads in the US. Whatever type of vehicle you may be looking for, there are large numbers of them that have ended up as salvage cars. You can easily search for and find them at salvage car auctions. You can pick from:
- Sports cars
- Classic and collector cars
- Diesel-powered vehicles
- Commercial vehicles
- And more, including ATVs, boats, snowmobiles, trailers, etc.
4. Salvage cars are an inexpensive source of spare parts
Let’s say you have an older, high-mileage vehicle that you are trying to keep running without spending a fortune when something breaks. Or maybe you have a classic or collector car that needs parts that are hard to find. Salvage cars are a great solution! Some salvage cars are so badly damaged that they are only good for parts – and those are often the least expensive vehicles at a salvage car auction!
If you like to sell on eBay, you could buy one of these salvage cars, remove the parts, sell them individually for a profit, and then contact Junk Car Medics to pick up what’s left and leave you with some additional cash. Cha-ching!
5. If you can fix up a salvage car yourself, you can save even more money
Your sweat equity is a real advantage when you buy a salvage car. Making repairs to it on your own time, without paying someone else to do it, keeps your total costs to a minimum. Then, once your salvage car has been inspected and considered roadworthy, you’ll have a great daily driver with very little invested.
6. You can resell repaired salvage cars for a profit
Some people have made a business of buying, repairing, and selling salvage cars to the public for a profit. This takes a whole additional level of commitment, business smarts, and a full awareness of the limitations of selling salvage cars (keep reading). We highly recommend that you go through the entire process with a single salvage car, then decide if you really want to repeat the process for a fleet of such vehicles, each of which must be sold at a profit. If you do, go for it!
7. You can work with a salvage car auction broker to get a better result
Many of the major salvage car auctions are not open to the public, but they do allow authorized brokers to bid on behalf of individual salvage car buyers. A good broker can be your eyes and ears at a salvage car auction, providing on-the-ground information, advice, and access that you couldn’t get otherwise. We’ll have more on the issue of brokers later in this article.
The reasons not to buy a salvage car
Salvage cars are different from normal cars with clean titles. Knowing the differences can save you from headaches and heartbreak resulting from your salvage car auction experience.
1. Expensive repairs can blow up your salvage car budget
That salvage car may look great in the online auction photos, but a huge amount of costly damage may be lurking underneath the surface. Beyond the major components that may not work properly, serious structural damage can compromise a vehicle’s safety. Then there are flood cars, which may look fine now, but will give you headaches down the road when the electronics fail and mold grows in the interior. It could all add up to be a potential bottomless (and dangerous) money pit, one which you now own.
2. Fees charged by auctions raise the cost of your salvage car
There’s more to buying a salvage car than that $25 opening bid! The auctions charge a fee for selling you the salvage car and there will likely be a documentation fee. If you use a broker, add their fees. You will also be responsible for transporting the vehicle to your location from wherever the auction is. By definition (and law), a salvage car cannot be driven on the roads until it has passed all required inspections.
3. There are hoops to jump through when attempting to register your salvage car
Let’s say that you have purchased your salvage car and done the necessary repairs to make it roadworthy. Now you have to get your state’s DMV to sign off so that it can be licensed and registered. This usually involves a mechanical inspection to verify that all essential systems are operational and safe. The brakes must work properly and all of the lights and signals must function as intended. If any required item fails, you will have to repair it and come back for another try.
4. There are insurance issues to consider
You have passed the state inspection and your salvage car is legal to operate. Now you have to try and get insurance for it. Remember, it was an insurance company that previously decided that this vehicle was a total loss. What this means is that while liability insurance should not be a problem, you may not be able to get collision or comprehensive coverage for it. Why? because the insurance company can’t be sure whether any further damage that occurs to the vehicle may have been a result of the previous incident that totaled it in the first place. It’s also difficult for the insurance company to place a value on a salvage car – after all, it started out as a total loss!
It's a good idea to discuss this with your insurance company before you commit to buy a salvage car. There are some insurance companies that will write policies for salvage cars, but you should check the prices and coverage to see if it’s worth it. You may be better off economically without the collision and comprehensive coverage. After all, you have much less invested in it, so it shouldn’t be a huge loss if it is wrecked and you sell what’s left for junk.
5. Financing a salvage car can present problems
It’s not only the insurance companies that see salvage cars as the second-class citizens of the automotive world. Banks and other financing sources also view salvage cars as high risk, since it is very difficult to assign a value to them – and even the slightest accident can once again make that salvage car a total loss. If you don’t have the cash on hand to buy a salvage car, you might consider a low-rate personal loan from a bank or credit union.
6. No matter how well you repair it, a salvage car will always have a salvage title
A salvage car will always carry the burden of being declared a total loss. Even when it is rebuilt properly and passes inspection, it will be ineligible for a clean title. The events that turned it into a salvage car will be a part of its permanent record, which will be revealed on its vehicle history report.
Because of this, a salvage car will be permanently saddled with little or no resale value, as well as the insurance and financing issues noted above. There is no “book value” for a salvage car, dealers won’t take one as a trade-in, and most private buyers will walk away once they know. The best solution to these problems is to simply keep your salvage car and drive it until the wheels fall off!