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Would You Buy a Car With a Rebuilt Title?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2016

Hello Oversteerions, and welcome to Ask Doug, your favorite weekly column wherein you "Ask Doug" a question about cars, and Doug answers your question in a thoughtful, respectful manner, unless of course it is stupid.

If you'd like to Ask Doug a question, you can! Just send me an email at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, or send me a note on my Facebook page. Although I can't promise I'll answer your email here on Oversteer, I can promise my friends and I won't laugh at you too much when I pass your email around.

Today's message comes to us from a reader I've named Hunter, who lives in a city I've named Seattle. Hunter writes:

Doug,

Would you buy a Rebuilt Title car? Or what should you look for?

I'm seeing some great deals on cars I wouldn't otherwise be able to afford – that have rebuilt titles.

Most of the ads claim that since it's a rebuilt and not a salvage title that's the greatest thing ever.

Like the car was fixed, better than new sometimes, passed state inspection with flying colors and is as good as any other used car.

Is that bologna or should I actually consider such a vehicle?

Hunter

For those of you who don't want to read Hunter's text, because it's in italics, here's what he's asking: Would I, Doug DeMuro, ever purchase an automobile with a rebuilt title? Or, perhaps: Would I, Doug DeMuro, ever recommend that someone else purchase an automobile with a rebuilt title? Someone, for instance, whose name rhymes with "Bunter" and who lives in a place where the entire city comes outside and dances during the one hour each winter when the sun is visible?

Here's the answer: It depends.

Before I clarify my position, let's discuss what a rebuilt title is. When a car is considered a "total loss" by an insurance company after an accident or another incident (say, for example, a flood), the car gets a salvage title -- because it has been purchased by an insurance company for salvage purposes, and it will likely be sold at a salvage auction.

Eventually, many of these cars find their way to shops capable of making the necessary repairs to get them back into good shape. Once a "salvage" car has been fixed and brought back into roadworthy condition, the owner can apply to change the title status from "salvage" to "rebuilt" -- which, in most states, involves some sort of inspection process to prove the vehicle actually has been rebuilt.

And this brings us back to the question, which is: Would I buy a vehicle with a rebuilt title?

I'll start by saying this: I would absolutely not, under any circumstances, except perhaps for the sake of novelty, purchase a vehicle that has a rebuilt title as a result of a flood. You'll find differing points of view on this, but I'm of the opinion that water destroys a car in many ways that might not reveal themselves for years -- so I'm not a fan of cars with post-flood rebuilt titles.

But what about accidents? Once again, I say: It depends.

It primarily depends on the quality of work involved, the vehicle in question and the kind of discount you're getting.

First off, there's no question a car with a rebuilt title should be offered at a huge discount compared to the "correct" price for the vehicle -- probably at least 25 percent, in order to make me interested.

As for the quality of work, I wouldn't trust myself to assess it. A car with a rebuilt title might "seem" like it's been correctly repaired on a test drive, but then you might get it up on a lift and discover the front passenger side suspension is actually just a bunch of Brillo Pads stacked on top of each other and connected with double-sided tape. So before you buy any car with a rebuilt title, you'll want to get a mechanic to inspect it -- and probably a body shop, too, in order to find out whether the work was performed professionally.

And then there's the type of vehicle. I'd probably only consider a rebuilt title on a verrrrry specific type of car. A high-end exotic? Probably not -- because I'd have a tremendously difficult time selling it, and because I'd never be convinced the repairs were up to factory standards. A budget-priced economy car? Almost certainly not: There are thousands of Toyota Corollas out there, and there's no point choosing one that's been smashed over a clean one.

Instead, I'd reserve a rebuilt title purchase for an unusual vehicle that may not be easy to find with a clean title -- like an older BMW M5, or an Acura Integra Type-R, or a GMC Typhoon. I'd also consider a rebuilt title for anything I didn't need to keep pristine -- like a track car or an off-road rig.

However: Generally, Hunter, the rebuilt title is a huge red flag -- and if you plan on pursuing it, you should do so with extreme caution and the advice of a trusted mechanic.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Would You Buy a Car With a Rebuilt Title? - Autotrader