After a major wreck, it's not always possible to restore a car to the point where it's driveable again. Besides the physical damage to the vehicle, you may have to deal with a salvage title.
A salvaged car is one that an insurance company has determined as a total loss, meaning that it will cost more money to repair than what the car is worth. (Formulas vary by state). The becomes a problem if you want to sell the vehicle or use it again.
- A salvaged car is one that an insurance company has determined as a total loss, and in most states, you cannot drive or obtain insurance for it.
- Typically, once a vehicle’s title has been branded as salvage, it will never go back to the way it was titled before.
- However, it may be able to be rebranded as “rebuilt title" (or in some places “reconditioned” or “assembled”).
- To remove a salvage title, you will need to purchase the car, have it repaired, get it inspected, and file the correct paperwork.
What Can You Do With a Salvage Vehicle?
In most states, you cannot drive a salvage title car on the road or obtain insurance for it, and it is hard to find a company willing to insure or obtain financing to purchase even a previously salvage-titled car. Most reputable dealerships also shy away from accepting a salvage car as a trade-in.
So, the question is: How can you get a salvage title cleared?
Title Name Games
Before we begin, it's important to note that attempting to conceal a car’s history in a way that isn’t totally “by the book” in your particular state is a serious crime called "title laundering" or "title washing." Every state’s auto-licensing regulations are different, and you should always check the unique registration requirements and titling rules of your state before considering a salvage title car.
The rules are fairly similar in most jurisdictions. Typically, once a vehicle’s title has been branded as salvage, it will never go back to the way it was titled before. In most states, however, the title can be rebranded as “rebuilt title" (or in some places “reconditioned” or “assembled”). This will require that you repair the vehicle and submit it to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for inspection. If it passes, the DMV will rebrand the title as “rebuilt.”
So, in a sense, the salvage title could be removed and changed to rebuilt title—but only technically. Anyone who knows anything about vehicle titles (and car history reporting services) will know, from the word "rebuilt," that it means it was formerly branded as salvage. That includes all insurance carriers and any knowledgeable potential buyers. If that’s a big problem for you, then you should probably skip the salvage game. If not, read on.
The Steps to Rebuilding a Title
Here’s a brief summary of the steps you will typically have to take to remove a salvage title.
1. Purchase the Vehicle
This may or may not be as simple as it sounds. Some states will only allow licensed rebuilders to purchase or own a salvage title car. If that’s the case in your state, you will only be able to own the vehicle once it has been repaired and gone through the inspection and rebranding process.
2. Repair the Vehicle
Make sure that you know what you are doing or have the vehicle repaired by a certified mechanic who does. Make sure to hold on to any and all paperwork on the vehicle and take lots of pictures before and during the repair process.
3. Get the Inspection
Obtain and fill out the necessary forms from the DMV to have the car inspected. This is where all of that paperwork and those photos come into play. The DMV will most likely require that you submit your bill of sale, the salvage title, the photos, and other documentation as part of the process. Once you’ve handled the paperwork, schedule an inspection, and get the vehicle inspected.
Remember, you cannot legally drive the vehicle to the inspection facility, so you will likely have to have it towed there.
Once it has passed the inspection (and you have paid the inspection fees), the inspector may attach a decal to the vehicle indicating that it has passed.
4. File the Final Paperwork
Your next move will be to apply for the rebuilt title, which will require filling out more forms and paying more fees. You should then receive the title with a statement branded on its face, indicating the vehicle has been rebuilt.
If your vehicle received its salvage title in another state, you may have to have it inspected and rebranded in that state before you can register it at home. Check your state’s regulations before making your purchase.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How much does a rebuilt title affect a car's value?
You can expect a rebuilt title to knock between 20% and 40% off the car's value. That's the rule of thumb used by the industry.
Why do I need a bill of sale for a salvage inspection?
A bill of sale is needed to prove that you legally came into possession of the vehicle. You may not need one if you bought the car new and it never changed hands.
What happens during a salvage inspection?
The main point of a salvage inspection is to ensure that the proper parts are in the vehicle and nothing has been stolen or illegally altered. The inspector will check the car's parts and cross-reference them with supporting documentation.