Should I be haggling or running away?
June 26, 2012 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a Subaru Impreza with a rebuilt title in Michigan? I'm looking at two Impreza hatchbacks, both 2006 models. One of them has about 60,000 miles, and according to the seller he has only replaced the hood and the front bumper. The other has about 50,000 miles, and the seller claims he has just replaced the rear quarter panel and the hatchback door. He's asking $7,900 for either one. Is this a scam?

My understanding of a rebuilt title is that they're issued when someone has fixed up a previously totaled car. What I don't understand is why an insurance company would total a seemly perfectly good car that only needs minor repair work, but that's the seller's story. I think the seller regularly fixes up Subarus as side job, and he's working out of a small garage with several other eastern european men and a number of foreign cars in various starves of disassembly.

Both cars drive well, and look to my untrained eye like they're in good shape. If I look close I can tell on the first Impreza that some work has been done to the hood (it's very slightly not-flush), and the same with the quarter panel on the second.

Is it likely that other work has been done to the cars that he isn't telling me about? If not, would this type of title greatly affect my resell value or insurance costs? Should I be hanging or running away?
posted by Hoenikker to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
why an insurance company would total a seemly perfectly good car that only needs minor repair work

I believe that if the cost of repairs exceeds the cost of some fraction of the blue book value of the car, then the insurance company will declare it totaled. Certain kinds of body damage on an older car will be costly enough to repair to make the car be totaled. And if the car is older, with a lower blue book value, it's easier to reach the threshold for 'totaled'.

I don't have any idea whether that's what is happening here.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:49 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Blue book value on that car - in my zip code, likely to be one of the more expensive ones in the US due to incomes and the popularity of Subarus - is ~$8,000. You shouldn't be paying anywhere near blue book for a totalled vehicle.
posted by downing street memo at 6:49 PM on June 26, 2012

Ask your insurance agent if they will insure a vehicle of this type and what the rates would be vs a car with a clean title.

It will totally affect your resell value.
posted by iamabot at 6:49 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

My friend totalled an almost brand new Volvo a couple of months ago. It was really not that badly damaged, and absolutely repairable, but the cost of repairs exceeded the book value.

On the other hand, I once had a rebuilt VW Polo that was a fucking liability. The worst car I've ever owned. Holy shit.
posted by unSane at 7:03 PM on June 26, 2012

At the same price for either, I'd happily take the car with 10k more miles and a clean title.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:03 PM on June 26, 2012

To be honest, I'd be too worried about if the frame was bent and not properly straightened to go for it. Both of those repairs - that the car was totaled seems to say there might be more going on than simple panel repairs.
posted by skittlekicks at 7:05 PM on June 26, 2012

Branded title vehicles should sell for less than 60% of wholesale value of comparable used. Consult your online blue or kelly book for details. Most insurance companies will not underwrite comprehensive or collision insurance for previously totaled vehicles no matter the driver.
posted by vozworth at 7:26 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Too much of a gamble IMO. It could be a perfectly good car, but it also could not be. How much of your money are you willing to bet?
posted by twblalock at 7:38 PM on June 26, 2012

If you are taking out a car loan you might want to check with your lender first. My Credit Union will not lend money for cars with any title issues.
posted by cairnoflore at 8:16 PM on June 26, 2012

Hoenikker: " If I look close I can tell on the first Impreza that some work has been done to the hood (it's very slightly not-flush), and the same with the quarter panel on the second. "

This is a warning, to me. Properly done repairs should be invisible, apart from maybe some tiny variations in paint colour. At the least, the repairs haven't been done properly and, at the worst, the panels don't fit properly because the car is bent in some way. Which would explain the write-off. Cars don't get written off because of the need to replace two bolt-on panels.
posted by dg at 8:51 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, badly fitting panels is an instant walk-away.
posted by unSane at 8:53 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

That salvage title is going to kick your ass come sale time, even if the repairs are done well, and it sounds like they weren't.
posted by davejay at 10:16 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Salvage titles are nasty in some cases. I would check for water damage; as in, someone stalled out in a flooded street and had to abandon ship. Check for condensation on the inside of exterior light covers, and mold stains on interior upholstery. Musty smells too. Make sure all the electronics work, crank the power stealing all the way to one side at a dead or near dead stop, listen for strain. Check the axl boot covers; make sure they are actually there and intact. Do a stress test on the brakes. And never pay blue book for a salvage.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:36 PM on June 26, 2012

Don't even think about buying a salvage-titled car without having your own independent mechanic look it over thoroughly.

I agree with most of what's above; even if the car is fine, it's foolish to pay anywhere close to the blue-book value, because your risk with such a car is higher, the resale value is lower, and there are extra red-tape hurdles to deal with for as long as you own it. Poorly fitting body panels would be a deal-breaker for me, and not one that they could possibly recover from; I wouldn't be comfortable buying any car from a shop that put stuff like that on the lot. With such obvious indicators of corner-cutting, it's just not worth the risk of dealing with them at all.
posted by jon1270 at 4:16 AM on June 27, 2012

I love Subarus, but they are unibody vehicles, which means you can't just repair a body panel, it's built into the frame. If the rear quarter panel isn't flush it's because the frame is bent.

Subarus are incredibly safe. Except when the frame is bent.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:06 AM on June 27, 2012

I had a '99 Subaru Impreza that got the rear end smashed around by a large pickup in late 2007. The truck hit the car with enough force for me to do a 180; my glasses and my friend's hat ended up in the back seat. They had to replace the hatch, the bumper, a rear quarter panel, lights, the what-nots that make the rear window defrost and wiper run, etc. Insurance paid; the car was far from totaled per KBB values. The trusted repair shop pointed this out specifically as a perk of driving a Subaru.

It takes a lot more than a hood or quarter panel to total a Subaru, especially those as young as you are looking at. I would be wary.
posted by wg at 5:17 AM on June 27, 2012

+1 to all above.

Rebuilt cars can be a nightmare unless they are done properly. Mind you; buying a car from someone who isnt being 100% honest with you is a nightmare too.

Things to look for;
Check the tyres; All the tyres should be worn the same, and should have pretty even wear across them. Although Subarus tend to wear the outside of their tyres it should only be minor. Any bald strips, any unusual tyre suggests misalignment. No way of knowing whether that's something which should just be adjusted or whether its a sign of a bent chassis.

Check under the bonnet (hood); what looks new? What bolts are new looking? Look down at where the front bumper is mounted on the chassis rails; have they compressed? Are they bent?

Do all the doors shut easily and feel the same? Does the boot (trunk) close neatly? Anything out here is a sign of a big bend.

I dont think this is a scam as such. I think it's a seller who is playing on your ignorance. Either start really poking around and asking tricky questions or bring along a tame mechanic. See how he reacts; if he starts being obstructive or giving evasive answers then he has something to hide. You may possibly find he is genuine and is just chancing his luck regarding the price. You might get a bargain. But I think the conclusion is; there should be more information and less price in any deal!
posted by BadMiker at 6:14 AM on June 27, 2012

WRX or regular Impreza?
posted by jmd97 at 8:39 PM on June 28, 2012

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