What Is a Rebuilt Title?

Rebuilt Titles Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

person in jumpsuit with ipad in hand, fixing a car
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Cars with rebuilt titles have had a troubled past. The “rebuilt” certification means a vehicle was once salvage—considered a total loss—but restored and now ready for the road.

Buying a rebuilt vehicle can save you a few bucks. But a car with a rebuilt title comes with drawbacks, including difficulty finding financing and insurance coverage. States use the rebuilt designation to inform future buyers that an automobile was once rescued from the junk heap. Even if a rebuilt automobile is trouble-free after its reconstruction, the rebuilt title remains with it for the rest of its life.

Definition and Examples of a Rebuilt Title

A new automobile comes with a “clear” or “clean” title—a designation that indicates it has never sustained any significant damage. A clear title can apply to a financed car or one that you own outright.

When a car sustains significant damage in a traffic accident or from a different type of event, such as a flood, theft of parts, or vandalism, the insurance company may consider it a total loss. If this is the case, repairing the car is considered to be more costly than getting rid of it. In most cases, the carrier will offer you a settlement and take possession of the vehicle.

To recoup its loss, the provider may decide to sell the totaled car to a business that rebuilds vehicles. When selling a totaled car to a rebuilder, most states issue a “salvage” title to the new owner. This designation can inform future buyers that the car was once considered a total loss.

Rebuilt titles don’t apply to vehicles that have a history of minor fender benders. It only applies to cars that were once considered a total loss. 

When a business or individual successfully rebuilds a car to the point where it can hit the road again and it passes required inspections, they can resell the vehicle. With this type of transaction, the state will issue a “rebuilt title” to the new owner. So, a rebuilt title indicates that an insurance company once considered the car a total loss, but the car was then reconstructed to a condition that passed a state inspection. 

  • Alternate names: Restored salvage title, branded title, reconstructed title

How Does a Rebuilt Title Work?

When builders restore a vehicle with a salvage title to working condition, they must have the vehicle inspected before they can resell it. In some states, a rebuilt car must pass a more rigorous inspection than one that has a clean title. 

In most cases, only a legally authorized inspector—usually a specially trained government employee—can conduct the inspection. The inspector may perform a bumper-to-bumper inspection. This includes testing the vehicle’s horsepower and examining parts such as lights, mirrors, tires, and wheels, along with parts permanently affixed to the car, such as bolts, brackets, and welds. The tests will determine if the car meets the state’s vehicle code.

If the car passes inspection, it’s viewed as ready for the road and eligible for a rebuilt title. The inspection and recertification processes, and the fees they incur, vary by state. After recertification, the rebuilt designation will remain with the vehicle to alert future buyers of its damage history.

Some states brand rebuilt titles with the type of damage the car sustained, such as fire, flood, or water damage, as is the case in Georgia. A rebuilt title may also indicate that the car was once considered junk, salvage, or that it was dismantled. Due to safety concerns, many insurance companies won’t provide collision or comprehensive coverages or optional coverages, such as rental car reimbursement or roadside assistance, for cars with rebuilt titles.

Laws governing rebuilt titles vary by state. Some states may limit rebuilt titles based on a reconstructed vehicle’s age or resale value. In Washington, for example, a car may only receive a rebuilt title if it is five years old or younger. 

Rebuilt Title vs. Salvage Title

Rebuilt titles and salvage titles have some similarities, but each applies at a different stage of the reconstruction process.

Rebuilt Title Salvage Title
Indicates a history of serious damage, depending on the state, usually ranging between 70% and 90% of the average resale value  Indicates a history of serious damage, depending on the state, usually ranging between 70% and 90% of the average resale value
May specify the type of damage sustained, such as flood, hail, theft, or vandalism damage May specify the type of damage sustained, such as flood, hail, theft, or vandalism damage
Previously had a salvage title, but was repaired Indicates if the vehicle is repairable or has only a market value for its parts
Restored and passed a rebuilt vehicle inspection Not roadworthy and illegal to drive

Pros and Cons of Buying a Car with a Rebuilt Title

Pros
    • Possibly cheaper than other used cars
Cons

Pros Explained

If you’re looking for a used car, you may get a better deal if you purchase one that has a rebuilt title. But keep in mind that, although the car has passed inspection, its prior condition may mean higher-than-average repair costs in the future. You may want to reach out to an expert in the industry or a friend with in-depth knowledge on the matter for guidance. If you don’t have experience working under the hood and need a reliable set of wheels, a car with a rebuilt title may not be the best choice. 

Cons Explained

Difficult to insure: Many companies won’t insure a vehicle that has a rebuilt title. And those that do likely won’t offer property coverages such as collision and comprehensive. So, if you’re in an accident, you’ll have to pay repair costs out of pocket.

Difficult to obtain financing: Cars certified as salvage have no Blue Book value. Although a car with a rebuilt title has been restored and has passed state inspection, lenders may decline to finance it. Lenders may also decline to finance a restored vehicle because they question its repair history or ability to function on the road. Lenders that do finance cars with rebuilt titles often charge high interest rates and only offer short-term loans.

Low market value: Since cars with rebuilt titles have a troubled history, they typically don’t have a good resale value. In most cases, car dealers won’t accept a rebuilt car as a trade-in because they can’t quickly sell it.

Key Takeaways

  • Vehicles that have rebuilt titles were once certified as salvage, illegal to drive, and unroadworthy.
  • Cars with rebuilt titles were once considered total losses but were restored.
  • A rebuilt title remains with the automobile to alert future buyers of its troubled history.
  • Vehicles that have rebuilt titles are often difficult to finance and insure.
  • An automobile that has a rebuilt title may have a lower-than-average resale value.