Demystifying Salvage Car Damage Codes For Auction Beginners

When someone tries to sell you a used car in a private deal, you will often hear vague terms like “minor dents”  or “small fender benders.” You might hear no mention of any damage as the seller is looking for a quick sale. 

You will not find this kind of behaviour at salvage car auctions. As always, it is up to the buyer to check the vehicle and find out the major defects. But the description of the lot up for auction will usually have some codes for reference purposes. 

Introduction to Damage Codes

Salvage car damage codes are easily identifiable – they are made up of two alphabets, both capitalized. Usually, these are abbreviations of certain types of damage commonly found on salvage cars. AO, RJ, TP, VN are all examples.  

If you ever visit a salvage auction, you will find these codes next to the description of the lot. There is no rule that states that one car will have only X number of damage codes. Depending on the state of the vehicle, it could be one, or even half a dozen or more!

Salvage vehicle damage codes are made up of a pair of alphabet letters, both in capital letters

Interpreting Damage Codes – Things to Remember

The purpose of a damage code is to give you a basic idea of the kind of damage the salvage vehicle has suffered. It is purely for reference purposes – meaning, you have to check the vehicle yourself to get a complete and accurate picture.  

Damage codes are not ranked in any order of preference or priority. They only indicate to you what is known to the current holder of the vehicle. It is not an exhaustive or reliable record of the full extent of the knocks, burns, breaks, and corrosion inside or outside the car. 

One should never make a bidding decision based purely on the damage codes listed on a particular lot. If a car has only one code, that does not mean that it is perfect in all other aspects. Conversely, a vehicle may have half a dozen codes, yet still be in an easily repairable condition.

Common Damage Codes in Alphabetical Order

Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s take a quick look at the full form of each damage code, and what it means: 

AO – All Over

Quite literally, this means that the vehicle has visible damages across the body, in the front, on the sides, rear, or even the roof in many instances. This is the kind of damage that could accrue over the years due to neglect/rash driving or the result of a few quick rolls. 

BC – Biohazardous/Chemical

This a vehicle that has been contaminated by dangerous chemicals, biological substances (can include accident victim’s remains, blood etc) 

BN – Burn

When a vehicle has suffered considerable fire damage, it gets the BN code. If the burning impact is restricted to specific zones, they get these separate codes – BE for fire damage to engines, and BI damage to internals, including the boot of the car.

Depending on the extent of fire damage, a vehicle can have one of three different codes - BN, BI, BE

DH – Damage History

An indicator that the vehicle has undergone repairs in the past, often after suffering extensive damages. 


FD – Frame Damage 

Warning that the car has suffered significant damage to frame/chassis, probably due to auto accidents or collisions. 


FR – Front End

There is damage to the fender/hood/bumper, due to a collision involving the front section of the car. 


HL – Hail

Quite common in Canada, damage caused to the exterior panels/body – often superficial in nature and easy to fix. 


MC  – Mechanical 

These vehicles suffer from damages to the major mechanical sub-systems. The transmission or engine block are the main sight of the trouble.  Might be a sign of a vehicle with other issues inside. 


MN – Minor Dents/Scratches

Purely superficial damage, with dents, not more an inch long at best. This does not imply that everything else is great.


NW – Normal Wear

No major signs of damage, often a good vehicle with plenty of life left in it. 


PR/RJ  – Partial Repair/Rejected repair

For whatever reason, the repairs on various parts of the car were left undone. It could be due to lack of experience, funds crunch or other mundane reasons.

RO – Rollover

Significant damage to body panels, roof, and maybe even the chassis and internal, due to major auto accidents and resulting rollover of the vehicle.

When auto accidents result in rollovers or flips, the salvage title will show a RO damage code

RR – Rear End

Visible damage on the rear end of the vehicle, including the rear fender, boot, and the rear panels. 


SD – Side

This car has visible damage on its sides, not just on panels and bodywork, but maybe even on the tires and wheels. 


ST – Stripped

Several parts have already been removed to the car by the previous oner. Or they are missing due to unknown reasons. 


TP – Top. Roof

Any visible damage on the top of the car/roof, the top portion of doors, or tailgate tops. 


UK – Unknown

There is damage to the vehicle, significant or otherwise, but they do not fall into any of the known categories of damage codes.  


UN – Undercarriage

Damage to the suspension, axles, exhaust lines, fuel tank, the lower part of the body, the frame etc can lead to this rating. 


VI – Missing/Altered VIN

It probably indicates a stolen car, as its VIN has been changed or removed.

These cars will end up with a WA damage code at a salvage auction lot.

VN – Vandalism

Damage caused by light theft or break-in attempts – the results are often minor and can be dealt with a change of upholstery, and repaired locks,  


VP – Replaced VIN

Due to unknown/unspecified reasons, but this has the same outcome as Altered VIN – the vehicle history cannot be verified. 


WA – Water/Flood

The vehicle has suffered corrosion or damage/deterioration of parts due to water exposure or flooding.