How to Legally Drive a Salvage Title Vehicle in California

Salvage Title Vehicle
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Car insurance laws vary all across the United States. Salvage title vehicles are notoriously hard to insure for a few different reasons: The documentation for the title is complicated, the specific rules of how and when you can declare a car as rebuilt vary from place to place, and they’re an insurance risk not every company is willing to take. Trying to find car insurance coverage for a salvage title in the state of California can be especially difficult. But it is still possible to get insurance if you know where to look and what kind of coverage you are most likely to get.

What Is Considered a Salvage Title Vehicle in California?

A major car accident, a natural disaster, flood, vandalism and more can all put your vehicle in jeopardy of having its title labeled salvage in the state of California. It is highly probable a salvage title vehicle will never be insurable or legally drivable again in California. Often to much damage has occurred to make the vehicle safe enough to drive, and it’s not repairable. Floods cause major mechanical damage which can often be masked but it is still not safe to drive. Sometimes, even if it your vehicle is technically repairable, it is also often not cost-effective to do so. But if you are determined and believe you have a good chance of passing all the inspections, you need to apply for a revived salvage title.

If you (and your insurance company) do decide it’s worth the investment, you put in the work, and you get the proper inspection, a $50 fee is charged to convert the title to a salvage title.

Revived Title in California

Once an insurance carrier determines that a vehicle is not worth fixing, the title is turned over to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Most insurance companies determine a vehicle to be unfixable if their cost of repair hits higher than 80 percent of the vehicle's value.

For example, let’s say that a man hits a deer square in the front of his 6-year-old Chevy. The vehicle's front end is pretty banged up and the airbag deploys. The man comprehensive coverage, so he is fully covered. Once he files a claim, the insurance adjuster will come out with a computer fully loaded with the insurance company’s proprietary repair estimate software. It is determined the Chevy was valued at $5,500 and the cost of repairs are $4,800. To determine the percentage of damage, you would take the cost of repairs $4,800 and divide by $5,500, which equals .87, which means that the car's damage is 87 percent of the vehicle's worth. To an insurance company, that means it is not worth repairing.

Most salvage vehicles make their way to the junkyard and are sold for scrap. The still functioning parts are pulled out of the wreckage and sold.

The first step is to fill out an application for a title or registration. When you get to the Department of Motor Vehicles, they will want to see the bill of sale from the or dismantler or anyone else that has had possession for that matter. The vehicle will then need to be inspected by the DMV or the California Highway Patrol to be approved driving to make sure all of the parts were legally bought. Definitely, call the CHP to make an appointment. They will not do the inspection without one. Expect to pay a $50 fee total loss salvage inspection fee.

California requires a lot of inspections. So plan to have to get a break and lights certificate and smog certificate if the vehicle was manufactured after 1976. Proof of insurance is required to get your vehicle registered. Car insurance is required anytime the vehicle is being driven. You will have to pay additional title and registration fees once all inspections are complete.

Car Insurance Is Required to Drive Legally in California

Some preferred insurance carriers may not want to cover a revived salvage title even if you do not want to carry physical damage coverage. Start by trying to insure the vehicle with your current car insurance carrier. always be forthcoming with information to make sure the policy is set up properly. If your car insurance carrier will not insure a revived salvage title, the next best chance of finding coverage is through a high-risk insurance agency.

The Bottom Line

Obtaining a liability only policy is the best bet. California's minimum car insurance coverage is 15,000/30,000/5,000. Most every insurance agent would recommend increasing those limits to 100,000/300,00/100,000 so you are protected properly in case of a severe accident.