Dear 4-WHEEL & OFF-ROAD: I am 17 years old and in the market for my first 4x4. I found a Jeep Cherokee that’s in my price range with some good stuff on it, including nice monotube shocks, a lift, a pretty nice stereo, and a light bar. But it has a salvage title and the guy is asking a little more than what stock Cherokees with equivalent miles go for around here. My uncle told me to stay away from a vehicle with a salvage title, but this Cherokee already has a lot of stuff I want on it, and it would cost a lot more than what the guy is asking to add those accessories to another vehicle. Is a salvage title really that big of a deal?
Listen to your uncle. Salvage title vehicles can be tricky and will never be worth the same as a similar vehicle with a clean title. They can also be difficult to insure. However, a salvage title vehicle can allow you to get into a nicer vehicle than you could otherwise afford. Unfortunately, without seeing the actual ad for the vehicle or seeing it in person, it’s hard for us to make a solid recommendation. At minimum you should ask a lot of questions, such as why it was totaled. In our eyes, a theft recovery is a lot more enticing than a vehicle that was hit hard or flooded (in the latter cases, we’d more than likely walk away). Were the repairs done by a professional? Ask for the paperwork, including the Carfax. If it was involved in any sort of accident, take it to a professional and have it inspected, or at least have someone with a lot of automotive knowledge that you trust look it over. We’ve seen some pretty sketchy salvage vehicles, but we’ve also run across some pretty good deals for vehicles that you could never tell were once totaled.
As for the accessories, we wouldn’t place much value in them. Contrary to what you often see on Craigslist ads, things like stereos and light bars add practically no value to a vehicle. The components are often cheap or poorly installed, and if they’re not, then all that stuff really does is attract thieves.
If the truck is lifted, make sure it’s a complete lift that has everything it’s supposed to, including an adjustable track bar, adjustable control arms, brake line extensions or longer hoses, shackles as opposed to lift blocks, springs rather than spacers, and so on. We’ve published many articles about what to look for in a lift system, so read up on Cherokees and educate yourself. We often see a hodgepodge of lift components on older vehicles in general and Cherokees in particular, so make sure everything belongs together and has been installed properly. If you find some sketchy stuff, you might end up spending more fixing problems than just starting fresh with an unmolested vehicle.
This is why it often makes more sense to start with a stock vehicle and modify it as you go. That way you can be certain how it’s equipped, and you learn about your vehicle when you do the work yourself. While modified vehicles are attractive, they are rarely priced the way they should be unless the seller is motivated. Based on what you describe, we would keep looking unless the guy wants to get down below what an equivalent stock Cherokee with a clean title would bring in your area.