It isn’t unusual to come across a car with a rebuilt title while shopping for a used vehicle. But how does a rebuilt title car differ from any other? How does a rebuilt title affect the value of a car, or affect how much you pay for auto insurance?

To answer that first question, a car gets a rebuilt title after it’s been totaled and then repaired to a point that it’s safe for the road.

There are advantages and disadvantages to buying a vehicle with a rebuilt title, as you might imagine. You’ll learn about both in this article, which covers eight things you should know about cars with rebuilt titles, including:

A rebuilt car might save you money

Cars with rebuilt titles are usually cheaper to buy than other used vehicles. How much could you save buying a rebuilt or reconstructed car? Fifty percent, according to Jason Shackelford, owner of Stingray Auto Repair in Redmond, Wash. Of course, how much you save on a rebuilt car depends on several factors, like the popularity of the vehicle and the type of damage done to it.

This doesn’t mean cars with rebuilt titles are cheaper than used cars with clean titles in the long run, though. If you don’t have your rebuilt or reconstructed car properly inspected before you buy it, you might have to pay for expensive repairs down the road.

Cars with rebuilt titles must pass an inspection

If you’re wary of buying a car that was once salvaged, remember this: to get a rebuilt title, a car often has to pass a state inspection.

That doesn’t mean surprises won’t pop up in the future. But it should make you feel at least a little more secure about buying a rebuilt car — especially if you also have it inspected by a trusted mechanic before you finalize your purchase.

Get a second opinion before buying a car with a rebuilt title

Most salvaged cars must pass an inspection before receiving a rebuilt title, but don’t stop there. Have a mechanic look over any rebuilt cars you’re thinking of buying, too.

"Always have the car inspected by a shop with experience handling vehicles with rebuilt titles before purchasing," Shackelford said. “A shop without the proper experience may not know what to look for.”

Remember, all cars with rebuilt titles were once damaged to the point they were inoperable. Make sure the mechanic looks closely at everything before signing off on the car. Someone could always repair it and then remove the new parts they added after receiving the rebuilt title.

Always ask for documentation on rebuilt title cars

If your rebuilt auto was repaired after being totaled, there should be documented evidence of the work done to get it running again. Should the person selling the rebuilt car you’re interested in refuse to give you this paperwork, run! Anyone trying to sell a reputable rebuilt vehicle won’t mind providing documentation.

"Ask for receipts from the repairs and ensure the repairs were done by a reputable facility, not in Uncle Joe’s backyard," Shackelford said.

You can also look into your rebuilt auto’s history using sites like:

  • Kelley Blue Book
  • Carfax
  • AutoCheck

Your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may be able to help, too.

It's important to know why your car was salvaged and how it was repaired. For example, it could have been rebuilt with parts from other totaled vehicles. While it may run properly, because it was fixed with spare pieces, you will need to maintain it differently moving forward than you would otherwise.

You may have trouble selling your rebuilt car

Because cars with rebuilt titles can be problematic, they're often difficult to resell. And if you do end up selling your rebuilt car, chances are you’ll make less of a profit from its sale than you would if your vehicle had a clean title.

Also worth mentioning here is that some dealers won’t accept rebuilt title cars as trade-ins for other autos.

Here’s how to insure a car with a rebuilt title

Some auto insurance companies won't insure a car with a rebuilt title. Others will insure them, but won’t offer full coverage. This is because it can be difficult to figure out the real value of a car that’s been rebuilt.

"The biggest challenge of owning a car with a rebuilt title is insurance can sometimes be difficult to obtain," Shackelford said.

If an insurer refuses to cover your car because it has a rebuilt title, you still have options. Shop around and compare quotes to find an insurance carrier that will cover vehicles with rebuilt titles.

Find auto insurance for a car with a rebuilt title

Six questions to ask before buying a rebuilt vehicle

You should ask — and get answers to — these questions before agreeing to buy a rebuilt car:

  • How was the car damaged?
  • How extensive was the damage?
  • How was the vehicle repaired and who did the repairs?
  • Is the frame properly aligned?
  • Has a certified mechanic examined the car?
  • Will my insurance company cover a car with a rebuilt title?

Make sure the rebuilt car isn’t a lemon

Although some cars with rebuilt titles are good, cheap vehicles to buy, own and drive, others are lemons that you should avoid at all costs.

"It is all too common for repairs not to be made properly,” Shackelford said. “It is a good idea to look for panel fitment. The lines or gaps between the body panels are a sure sign of a good or bad repair. Also, the paint color from panel to panel should be an exact match, not off by a shade or two."

Consumer Reports warns that if you see any of the following on a rebuilt title car, think twice before buying it:

  • Large dents or crunched fuel lines underneath the car.
  • An air-bag light that doesn't work properly. (This could be a sign it wasn't replaced correctly.)
  • Uneven tire tread.
  • Hood, trunk or doors that won't close correctly.

"Certain types of damage to a vehicle should never be fixed,” like fire and flood damage, Shackelford said. "But more minor things, such as vandalism or suspension damage, [are] easily repaired."

Signs of flood damage to a vehicle include:

  • Leaves, silt or sand in the trunk.
  • Mud or silt in the glove department.
  • Wet carpets.
  • Musty odor.
  • Air freshener or other scent used to cover up the smell of mold.

"Buying a car with a rebuilt title [can go] great or turn into a nightmare,” Shackelford said. “There really is no middle ground, so buyer beware.”

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