Why You Should Never Ignore A Theft Recovery Car At Auction

Grand Theft Auto may be a popular video game series, but it also happens to be a favorite activity for criminals in North America. Here in Canada, nearly 90,000 cars are stolen each year, an average of 232 per 100,000 citizens in 2018. 

Around one-sixth of these vehicles are never recovered as they are stripped of parts or shipped overseas. But a lot of them do end up found by the police, some of them in near “mint condition.” These theft recovery cars often end up in salvage car auctions. 

Buying a theft recovery vehicle might seem like a bad idea on paper, but it is anything but! In fact, there is a huge demand for these cars and dealers often expect them to go at a premium. So buying one at an auto auction is highly recommended, in the right situations. Here is why:

Theft recovery vehicles get a salvage title

When you hear “salvage car,” your mind automatically goes to accident wrecks, rusted old junk, or worse, flood-damaged vehicles. But stolen cars that are recovered by law enforcement also get the same salvage title as these other cars, but for vastly different reasons. 

It is all due to how the auto insurance business works in event of a theft. The insurance company will wait for a month, to see if the car gets recovered. When that doesn’t happen, they pay out the insurance money and write it off as a loss. 

Once the cops find a stolen car after this period, the insurance company has the right of ownership in the car. And their sole focus is on quickly getting it off their hands. A salvage title gets this job done for them, as the car can then be sold at auction. 

Many of the cars stolen in Canada get shipped overseas by criminal gangs to markets in Europe and Asia.

Why stolen cars get a salvage title

Do note that in many instances, the salvage title of a theft recovery car is not due to any damage or poor condition of the car. In fact, in many instances, the car may very well be totally fine and completely undamaged. 

Depending on their status and condition, used cars in Canada require any one of these four “brands”, or labels – stolen, salvage, non-repairable, and re-built. When a car-owner reports a theft, that vehicle VIN is marked as “stolen.”

Cars branded stolen cannot be sold legally through auctions or dealers. Once recovered, the title of that car is changed from “stolen” to “salvage.” Only the police can do this. This system helps to prevent the easy sale of stolen vehicles by criminals. 

Once the car is given the salvage title, the insurance companies take over. Some recovered cars will be missing parts or suffering structural damage. Others may be a little worn from use but in need of just minimal repairs. In most cases, the insurance company does not bother to foot the repair bill. Instead, they offload them at auctions.   

Thieves often strip engines from premium cars, like the Mercedes in this picture that is primed and ready for engine removal.

Why theft recovery cars are the best kind of salvage cars

A stolen vehicle that has not been in an accident, or taken to any chop shop, will usually be in far better condition than any other type of salvage car. Auto wrecks usually have structural damage that requires significant repairs. Often, those cars will never become road-worthy again. 

Flooded cars and those that suffered fire damage are in a similar category. They often have hidden damages to the engine block and electricals and are extremely expensive to repair. In stark contrast, with a theft recovery car, you have much better chances of getting a road-worthy vehicle. 

The best recovered cars often have minimal or zero damage, and if you are really lucky, it might not need any significant repairs. And the best of it all is the price – a salvage title will usually cost you much less than at a used car dealer.

Smart thieves are these days targeting even modern cars with ultra-secure digital key fobs.


A salvage title guarantees that you will get the car at bargain prices. But do remember one thing – don’t hold much hope of making a profit when you flip the car later. This happens with all salvage title vehicles. They are much better suited for personal use. 

A theft recovery car is a great option if you are on the lookout for a cheap car to use as your daily driver, or as a learner vehicle.  With a sharp eye and some basic due diligence, you can easily avoid vehicles in poor condition at an auction. Seek the help of a mechanic friend if you are no expert on cars.