How to Get a Salvage Title Cleared in California

What Can You Do With a Salvage Vehicle?

In most states, you can’t 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.

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

So the question is: How can you get a salvage title cleared?

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It Must Be Inspected According to Arizona Law

The car can’t be registered until it passes certain certifications and inspections. Be sure any car you’re thinking about buying comes with the proper paperwork. If a car is used – and especially if it has been salvaged – you’ll want to know its inspection history before agreeing to buy it. If it doesn’t pass the necessary inspections you’ll need to make repairs before it can be registered.

According to state law, restored salvage vehicles must pass a Level III inspection, which shows that the car has been inspected by a certified ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) officer. This process verifies that major parts like the front end assembly, engine, transmission, and rear end assembly are in good enough condition for highway use. Contact ADOT with any questions you have about what type of inspection the car you’re considering should have.

How does a car get a salvage or rebuilt title?

If a vehicle incurs extensive damage with repairs totaling between 70%-90% of the car’s value, then the insurance company may deem the car as a total loss. Once that determination has been made, a state motor vehicle agency changes the car’s title from clean to either salvage or junk. After being presented with a salvage title, you cannot drive, sell or register the vehicle until it has been repaired.

At this point, the salvage vehicle is typically sold by the insurer to a third party interested in repairing the vehicle or breaking it down for parts. If the vehicle is repaired, it will need to pass safety requirements before being given a rebuilt title by the state’s motor vehicle agency. By giving the repaired vehicle a rebuilt title, this provides the buyer more information about its history.

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How much does a rebuilt title affect a cars 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.

Your Car Will Have a Salvage Title

Cars on the market come with a certificate of title that indicates who the legal owner is. If you buy a salvage car, it will instead be accompanied by a “Salvage” certificate of title. This typically indicates to you or any other potential owner that the amount it would have cost to repair it made it not worth repairing to the insurer. Owners of salvage vehicles may not be concerned about the title, but it will be a red flag to anyone you hope to sell it to in the future.

State Restored Title Laws

Every state establishes its own laws governing restored title vehicles. Thus the best source of information about what to expect from a restored title car is your state’s laws. A local dealer or other car-buying expert can help you determine precisely what’s required of a restored title car.

In general, cars with restored titles must pass rigorous inspections, in addition to showing that the owner has completed specific repairs. Consequently, cars with restored titles are typically safe to drive, and may even be in better internal condition than uncertified used cars.

Step 1: Repair the damage to the vehicle

If you want to keep your salvage title vehicle or you’ve purchased a car with a salvage title, you need to make the necessary repairs to get it back on the road. These may be expensive, and given the salvage title, they could be more than your car is worth. 

Once you repair the damage to the vehicle, you may be able to get a rebuilt title. Remember to keep track of the repairs you make, as you’ll need proof for inspections later. 

Pricing Considerations

Price is a major consideration when buying a vehicle at auction with a restored title. The primary reason to buy such a car is that it is cheaper than other cars on the market. If you are not saving significant cash by purchasing a restored title car, it is simply not worth the money. The only exception to this rule is when the car is a collector’s item or cannot be purchased on the open market.

So how much should you pay? A restored title car that is in perfect condition and requires no extra work should go for 5% or more below market value. As damage to and problems with the car increase, the price should decrease.

Step 3: Schedule an inspection with a California-approved inspector

As part of getting a new title, you’ll need to schedule an inspection with a California-approved inspector. Have your vehicle identification number ready for an inspection from the DMV. 

In some cases, the DMV may require you to get an inspection from the California Highway Patrol (CHP). If your vehicle passes the inspection, they’ll give you a Reg 31 form, the DMV’s form for the Verification of Vehicle.

Approved CHP inspection sites

If you’re referred to the California Highway Patrol, you’ll want to have any proof of ownership documents and repair bills. The CHP also often checks vehicles that may have a high likelihood of being stolen. After passing the CHP inspection, you’ll receive a CHP 97C certificate, which is the Certificate of Inspection. 

Don’t forget: You’ll also need brake, light, and smog inspections for your vehicle and the respective certificates for each inspection to prove your vehicle has passed. 

If you’re referred to the CHP, here are the currently approved CHP inspection sites as listed on the CHP website:

Northern Division2485 Sonoma StreetRedding, CA 96001-3026Phone: (530) 242-4360

​Inland Division

847 E. Brier DriveSan Bernardino, CA 92408-2820Phone: (909) 806-2437

Valley Division

11336 Trade Center DriveRancho Cordova, CA 95742-6219Phone: (916) 464-1480

Border Division

9330 Farnham StSan Diego, CA 92123-1216Phone: (858) 492-1745

Golden Gate Division

1551 Benicia RoadVallejo, CA 94591-7568Phone: (510) 622-4611

Westminster Area

13200 Golden West StreetWestminster, CA 92683-2299Phone: (714) 892-4426

Central Division

5179 North Gates AvenueFresno, CA 93722-6414Phone: (559) 488-4053

Otay Mesa Inspection Facility

2335 Enrico FermiSan Diego, CA 92154Phone: (858) 492-1745

Southern Division                                                                             411 N Central Ave. #410Glendale, CA 91203Phone: (323) 644-9593

​Coastal Division

4115 Broad StreetSan Luis Obispo, CA 93401-7963Phone: (805) 549-3006

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.

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