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Used car red flag - salvage title

Illustration for article titled Used car red flag - salvage title

So yesterday I took a nice two hour drive out to Palm Springs in which thankfully I hit no traffic and went smoothly. I say thankfully because although the car was excellent, it had an alarming issue that has put much doubt into my head that this will be my next Miata. Not advertised in the ad was an accident history that totaled out the car earlier on in its life. Allegedly, this was an accident that caused cosmetic damage to the front end only. As pointed out by a fellow Oppo, the front bumper missing fog lights is the only immediately obvious tell since those always come standard on this trim level.


Now a “previously salvaged” branded Nebraska title doesn’t necessarily completely rule this car out but it definitely represents a major road block. The car runs beautifully, has been maintained meticulously by the current owner (with records from the dealer), and is in excellent cosmetic shape with zero rust and nearly zero blemishes or wear/tear to the paint. The parts replaced were the front bumper, hood, and passenger fender from a high height impact with a Ford Explorer that did not set off the airbags nor cause structural or mechanical damage. I have a hard time believing that nothing at all was bent in order to total it but whatever happened, was certainly minor enough to be repaired without leaving much trace. There’s a tiny gap between the headlight and bumper but mine was worse before I even hit anything so it’s not too concerning. The bigger problems are the amount of hoops California requires one to jump through in order to get a California rebuilt title and plates!

California requires a CHP/DMV scheduled inspection of the vehicle, a separate brake light inspection by another agency, and of course a bunch of fees to go with that in addition to your standard registration fees, taxes, and smog check. Technically the seller is responsible for this but it’s also still legal to buy a car and face that mountain of red tape to register the car yourself. I’m not nuts so this car is not even up for consideration unless all of those things are finalized and the proper paperwork is in order. If everything is sorted out and I’m handed a registerable car, my max offer will be standing at $4400. However, I’m also willing to take the risk and buy the car “as is” but my offer is going to be rock bottom at $3500 just because of the hassle. This seems fair to me because the car really is quite good and nothing sketchy came out of my inspection of the car nor my judgement of the owner and his paperwork. Pie in the sky, I’d rather the guy first register the car in California and then I’d feel much better about my max offer but I don’t think he’d go for that due to the expense.


Anyways, if anybody has access to a VIN scanning service (like carfax) I’d love to know before I go pay for one as some insurance. Definitely worth it for a car like this to give a better inkling that it’s not all a scam. I should find out later this week what paperwork the guy has accomplished in getting the car registerable. He apparently has an offer from someone via email who wants to pay asking price with a cashiers check on Friday. He’s welcome to wait but even if it’s not a scam, they are going to find out about the title issue and then get mad and leave. Unless someone is dumb and doesn’t read the fine print but then that’s their loss..

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