How to Determine the Salvage Value of a Car

How to Determine the Salvage Value of a Car

Salvage vehicles have survived an accident, a theft or a flood and have been issued a "total loss" certificate by an insurance company because the cost to repair the damage exceeds a certain percentage of the vehicle's cost. The percentage varies from state to state, as does the terminology. Some states indicate a salvage status on a car's title with the term "total loss" instead of "salvage"; others use such terms as "rebuilt/restored" or "flood loss." Regardless, salvage vehicles can be purchased for much less than other types of used cars because salvage value is how much a car is worth at the end of its useful life. It is a relatively subjective figure, ultimately determined by the company insuring the salvage vehicle, but you can calculate an estimate.

Look up the vehicle's retail value at Kelley Blue Book's website (see Resources).

Determine the vehicle's wholesale price or trade-in value by looking it up through National Automobile Dealers Association (see Resources).

Total the two figures and divide the result by 2 to get the car's current market value.

Determine the percentage used by the insurance company that deemed the vehicle a "salvage vehicle." This is often 75 percent of the market value, but each insurance company determines the percentage it uses.

Multiply the vehicle's current market value (from Step 3) by this percentage to get an estimated salvage value.


  • If you do not know which insurance company is involved, use a few percentages (70, 75 and 80, for example) in the equation to get a range of possible salvage values.