How to Get a Salvage Title Removed on a Vehicle

Turn Your Salvage Title Into a Rebuilt Title Today

Woman checking the oil dipstick in her car
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After a major wreck, it's not always possible to restore a car to 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 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.

Once an insurance company has deemed a vehicle a total loss, its title will be “branded” as salvage (hence the term “salvage title”).

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 title 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? And, really, you can't. But it's not quite that simple.

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, though. 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 salvage” (or in some places “reconditioned” or “assembled”). This will, of course, require that you repair the vehicle and submit it to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for inspection. If it passes snuff, the DMV will rebrand the title as “rebuilt.”

So, in a sense, the salvage title has been removed—but only technically. Anyone who knows anything about vehicle titles (and car history reporting services) will see the word “rebuilt” and know that it means it was formerly branded as salvage. That includes, by the way, 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.

How to get a salvage title removed on a vehicle.
 © The Balance 2018

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 re-branding 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. Also, 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 rebranded 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.

Note that 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. Again, check your state’s regulations before making your purchase.