Buying damaged and repairable vehicles - what you need to know

What you need to know when buying a damaged vehicle

Damaged repairable vehicles, usually called ‘salvage’ in the trade & often known as ‘write-offs’ to the public, are widely available on the Internet.

Damaged vehicles can be purchased direct from the insurer, from an insurer-contracted salvage agent, or via retail outlets like E-bay.  Many VRA members have direct links with motor insurers.

Buying salvage can often appear to be an easy way to save money.  But it’s usually not as easy as it seems & to make the most of it you need to understand exactly what you’re doing; in particular, what to avoid.

First off, it’s important to understand what ‘salvage’ is & where it comes from.

Motor salvage is when a vehicle has been subject to an insurance claim, usually due to accident damage or theft, but the cost of repairing it is too high to make repair worthwhile for the insurer.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the vehicle has been too badly damaged to repair, but the overall cost to the insurer (including things like car hire, delays in obtaining or the cost of new genuine parts, labour & paint charges etc.) is too high.  With the price of things nowadays, it’s often surprisingly easy to ‘write off’ a vehicle.

Insurers recognise that many of these vehicles can be repaired using ‘green’ parts and cheaper labour.  So they either sell off these vehicles ‘in bulk’ to salvage agents, who in turn offer them out to the market, or increasingly insurers are selling the salvage themselves using the salvage agents auction site (for which they simply pay a fee to the salvage agent).

But be careful.  Not all salvage is the same.

In the past, criminal activities involving salvage led insurers to establish a Code of Practice to help identify the various types, or categories, of salvage. Unfortunately, this COP is only voluntary, and it is widely suspected that compliance with the COP isn’t what it should be.  But even so, it still presents a useful tool.

You can find out more information about different salvage types (categories) and what they mean elsewhere in the Motor Salvage section of this website.