4 Steps To Clear a Salvage Title on a Vehicle

What are the differences between a salvage title and a rebuilt title?

To help you have a better understanding of what each title means, here is a closer look at both:

What is a salvage title?

A salvage title is designated for when the vehicle’s repair costs outweigh its market value and the vehicle is considered totaled. This normally happens when an insurance company writes off the vehicle as unrepairable. Some of the most common reasons why a car might have a salvage title are accidents, weather (especially flood damage) or the car was stolen. Vehicles given a salvage title may not be safe to drive due to the danger posed because of its extensive damage.

What is a rebuilt title?

When a car with a salvage title has been repaired, it can receive a rebuilt title. This notifies the buyer of the previous history of the vehicle. To receive a rebuilt title, the vehicle must pass a series of tests to ensure it is safe to drive in some states. However, in other states, there might not be any requirements to inform prospective buyers of the vehicle’s history.

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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.

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.

Repair the Vehicle

Make sure you know what you are doing or have the vehicle repaired by a certified mechanic who does. Hold on to any and all paperwork on the vehicle and take a lot of pictures before and during the repair process.

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 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 can't 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.

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.

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.

Step 2: Complete the required California documentation

On top of your repairs, you’ll need to file several documents at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). 

First, fill out the Application for Title or Registration. This form requests a new certificate of title so that you can ditch the salvage certificate and get a new title for your car. The new title will acknowledge the salvage title history but show that the vehicle has been revived or rebuilt. 

California drivers will need to have proof of ownership with a salvage title and a salvage certificate in their name. If you purchased the car from out of state, you will also need a Statement of Facts. If your vehicle is less than 20 years old, you’ll also need to provide an Odometer Disclosure Statement. 

Step 4: Go to the DMV

Once you complete the repairs and you have your application and completed inspections in hand, you can go to the DMV.  Take the CHP 97C form to the DMV to begin the registration process, and pay a non-refundable fee as part of the application. After the DMV’s approval, it can take between four to six weeks for your new title to be mailed to you. 

Step Two: Put the Thing Back Together

Once you’ve got your salvage car in your garage or driveway, it’s time to get to work on it. However, before you start you need to check with your state’s department of motor vehicles, as salvage vehicle laws in some states require rebuilders to document the repair process through photographs or have other requirements you need to follow. Once you check these laws, you can go ahead and get started as long as you comply with any that apply to you during the reconstruction and rebuilding of your car.

The extent of the damage you’ll have to repair will differ from one vehicle to another. Whatever you do, make sure you retain all the paperwork associated with your rebuild, including the receipts for replacement parts you buy from auto parts stores and salvage yards. This will be important for the next step.

Frequently asked questions

What’s required to have my car earn a rebuilt title?

Each state has its own regulations, with some being more stringent than others. The best approach is to contact your state’s motor vehicles department to learn the process of obtaining a rebuilt title.

Is a salvage titled vehicle right for me?

If you are an experienced mechanic or know one who can do great work inexpensively, then a salvage titled vehicle could be a great buy.

What should I look for when buying a vehicle with a rebuilt title?

First, check the vehicle’s history through Carfax or a similar service to determine what caused the salvage title status. In a few states like Ohio, something as innocuous as an abandoned vehicle could earn the salvage title distinction.

Next, see if you can determine who did the repair work and the quality of their work. Research them online, noting Google consumer reviews, their Better Business Bureau report and any complaints filed with your state’s office of consumer affairs to see if they are well-rated and reputable. Taking these steps will help make the process smoother if you are interested in purchasing a vehicle with a rebuilt title.