What Is a Rebuilt Car Title?

I bought and insured a used Fiat 500 Abarth with a rebuilt title

Used 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth with a rebuilt title | M
Used 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth with a rebuilt title | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit

With all of that in mind, I decided to buy a used car with a rebuilt title anyway. Specifically, the used 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth in the photo above. Admittedly, I’ve only had it for a few days. And the safety inspection isn’t until the beginning of September. But so far, there’s nothing about it that indicates it’s anything other than a well-maintained 500 Abarth. And I have every confidence that it will pass that inspection.

There are several reasons for my confidence. For one, Illinois requires both safety inspections and for rebuilders to hold professional licenses. The state also requires the rebuilders to provide a list and invoice for all the parts replaced during the repair, Auto Auction Mall notes. In addition, before giving me full coverage, my insurance company ran the VIN to make sure the Abarth’s history checked out.

Used 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth interior | Matthew Skwar
Used 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth interior | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit

Furthermore, my Fiat 500 Abarth wasn’t severely damaged. In the photos the shop provided, the hot hatch had a damaged hood and a cracked bumper hanging off at one end. That’s it; the airbags didn’t even deploy. And yes, that’s enough damage for an insurance company to issue a salvage title, Cars.com says. In other words, while my car had some cosmetic damage, the chassis and powertrain were untouched.

Oh, and speaking of the shop, I bought my Abarth at a restoration shop called Roadster Salon. It specializes in classic Italian sports cars, particularly Alfa Romeo and Fiat Spiders. It even does EV conversions. But it also works on Ferraris, Maseratis, MGs, Triumphs…and Fiat 500 Abarths. And given that Roadster Salon has a multi-year waiting list and excellent reviews, I think my 500 is solid.


How Extensive Was the Damage?

Our dealership keeps detailed records of every used car on our lot. This includes each vehicle’s service and accident report. You can easily request a full report from our sales team or retrieve it from a third-party site like CARFAX® or KBB.com

Pros and Cons of a Rebuilt Title

Despite their checkered past, it isn't always a bad idea to purchase a vehicle with a rebuilt title. Here are some pros and cons, starting with the pros:

Pros of Buying a Vehicle with a Rebuilt Title

  • The cost is markedly lower. A car with a rebuilt title should sell for considerably less than a similar model with a clean title will.
  • The damage may not be as bad as you thought. There are many possible reasons for a car to be declared a total loss. If the rebuilt car is structurally sound and simply needed some expensive new parts that the insurance company didn't want to pay for, it may be fine. But if it suffered more severe damage, resulting in, for example, a warped or cracked frame, it could be a gamble that isn't worth taking. Be sure to ask why the car had to be rebuilt and what was done to fix the damage, and also check the VIN at the NICB site. If you aren't an automotive expert yourself, consider paying a trustworthy mechanic to look it over for you.

Cons of Buying a Vehicle with a Rebuilt Title

  • Past damages can rear their ugly head later. Even if you tried to inspect the car thoroughly before finalizing the transaction, cars are complex machines and things can go wrong. Mechanical issues that appeared to be fixed could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars in repairs. One type of damage to be especially wary of is flooding, which may not be immediately obvious but can cause major problems as metal corrodes. Consumer Reports has a checklist for how to spot a flood-damaged car.
  • It could be harder to get insurance. Your car might be in tip-top shape, but a rebuilt title can be radioactive to some insurance companies. In some cases, an insurer may refuse to sell you collision or comprehensive insurance, which cover damage to your own car, but will agree to sell you liability insurance, which covers damage you cause to other people or their property. Liability coverage is mandatory for drivers in virtually every state, but collision and comprehensive are optional.
  • It may be tough to sell. When you no longer need the vehicle or have decided to trade up, your car’s rebuilt title could scare off potential buyers.

Are salvage titles bad?

Choosing a car with a salvage title can be dangerous if the car hasn’t been properly repaired or rebuilt. States typically require a “rebuilt title” and inspection if the car has been repaired to ensure that it’s roadworthy again.

But your safety could still be at risk. If the previous owner restored the car’s exterior, but didn’t fix important safety features like airbags, you could be seriously injured if you get into an accident.

Even if a car has been completely rebuilt, it may not have been repaired well. If there was significant frame damage, you may find that the doors don’t shut correctly or the windows don’t seal properly.

You’ll also want to watch out for “title washing.” Title washing means illegally removing a car’s branded title status. Dishonest auto sellers may apply for a new title for the salvage vehicle in a different state or withhold information on a new title application.

How can I check if a car has a salvage title?

Vehicle history reports, like those offered by CarFax and AutoCheck, can often alert you if a salvage title has been issued in the car’s history.

What are some advantages and disadvantages of having a salvage or rebuilt title?

Purchasing a previously damaged vehicle can be a risky move, but if you know what you’re doing, it could also be a smart move. One advantage of vehicles with a salvage or rebuilt title is that they generally cost much less than those with clean titles. In fact, salvage or rebuilt vehicles generally cost 20%-40% less than the same type of vehicle with a clean title, according to Kelley Blue Book.

On the other hand, purchasing a car with a rebuilt title can lead to more costs in the long-term if the repairs previously made were not up to par. When you purchase a salvage rebuilt vehicle, you are accepting that extensive damage has occurred to the vehicle. In some cases, there may still be undisclosed or unseen damages that could arise at a later date.

Likewise, even if the vehicle has been fully repaired, you may have trouble finding insurance coverage for the car. In many cases, those carriers who insure vehicles with a rebuilt title may charge the same premium as a similar vehicle with a clean title, even if your vehicle is worth much less.

Can I Take a Test Drive?

You’d never buy a pair of shoes without first trying them on. The same rule applies when buying a used car. Be sure to take it for a test drive before purchasing. During your drive, pay close attention to how the car handles and brakes. You also should keep an ear open for any rattling or uncommon sounds.

What Is a Rebuilt Title?

Most used vehicles come with a “clean” title that certifies the new owner is getting a vehicle that’s in good working order. However, if a used vehicle had ever been involved in a major accident, gone through a manufacturer buyback thanks to a successful lemon law claim, or had its odometer rolled back, it could come with a rebuilt title.

A rebuilt title generally means that at some point the car was so badly damaged it was declared an actual total loss—or “totaled”—by an auto insurance company. If that same vehicle subsequently goes on sale with a rebuilt title, someone has made the effort to repair or rebuild it. Depending on local laws, the repaired vehicle would likely have to undergo an inspection before it can be driven on public roads.

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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Take a Closer Look at Our Used Car Options

Our always-evolving pre-owned inventory is available for viewing on our website anytime. Of course, you can visit any of our locations to browse the latest used car options, too.

We make a promise to you with every pre-owned model. If you don’t absolutely fall in love with the car you’ve purchased, it can be exchanged for another used car within 30 days or 1,000 miles of driving. We want you to be happy with the car you’ve selected, and this is the best way to ensure that.

Title Terms You Should Know

Now that you know what to look for when shopping for cars with rebuilt titles, let’s get into the meanings of some of the more common terms in the space. Keep in mind that different states sometimes use different language to describe the same thing—imagine that. Even so, the basic concepts are generally the same across the country.

Rebuilt Title

A vehicle with a rebuilt title was, at one point, considered to be a salvage title vehicle. It has been repaired or otherwise changed to make it safe, legal, and roadworthy.

Salvage Title

A vehicle with a salvage title has not yet been repaired or changed to make it safe and roadworthy. These vehicles can still be purchased but will require effort and money to make them usable.

Clean Title

Though we haven’t spent much time discussing financing here, a clean titled vehicle usually refers to one that is free of liens, loans, leases, and anything that would cause a salvage or rebuilt title to be applied.


This term refers to a pre-purchase inspection by a trustworthy, reputable mechanic. This is a shop, independent of the seller, that you trust will accurately alert you to issues that aren’t immediately visible or noticeable during a test drive.

The quality of a rebuild matters., Depositphotos

Learn More Today

Used cars with rebuilt titles can provide you with reliability for many years and miles to come.

If you would like to learn more about buying a car with a rebuilt title in Brook Park, Cleveland, or Parma, OH, contact our team at the Montrose Auto Outlet.