How To Get A Salvage Title The Right Way

by | Jul 23, 2020

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming some serious shit has happened to your poor car in the last few weeks or months.

Before we get into the meat of this article, let me say I’m sorry. Whether your car was stolen, damaged by mother nature, demolished in an accident, or happened to be crushed by a gigantic Nike volleyball (yes, that really happened) you’ve probably been through a lot.

It’s my hope that this article will make things easier for you. Today, we’re going to cover all the nitty gritty details about salvage titles (and salvage vehicles, for that matter) with the hope that even if a gigantic volleyball crushed your car, you’ll still come out on top.

In this article we will cover:

  • What is a “Salvage Certificate”, a “Salvage Title” and a “Rebuilt Title”
  • What has to happen for your vehicle to be considered salvage
  • How to handle the insurance company declaring your vehicle a total loss
  • What’s the difference between a salvage title and a salvage certificate?
  • The options you have for repairing your vehicle
  • The step-by-step process to getting a salvage title from your state.
  • Is getting a salvage title worth the effort?

If your car has been totaled (or you think it’s about to be) but you don’t want to give it up, you’ll want to read the entire article. If you’re buying a car with a salvage certificate with the intention of repairing it and claiming a rebuilt title – all the information you’re going to need will be right here.

First Things First, What Is A Salvage Title?

There are 3 main terms that get talked about in regards to reparing a vehicle that has been totaled by insurance. They are:

  • Salvage Certificate (can also be called a junk title, scrap title, etc)
  • Salvage Title
  • Rebuilt/Rebuilt Salvage Title

Depending on the state you live in, there may be different terms, but rest assured they are talking about the same thing as we are here.

A salvage certificate is what you’re given after your car has been totaled. This is basically the government saying “okay, your car is totaled, now get out of my face”. You can’t do much of anything with a salvage certificate. You can’t drive considering that you can’t register your car.

A salvage title is sometimes the same thing as a salvage certificate, sometimes not depending on where you live. Sorry, I know how confusing this is. In some states, a salvage title is not considered road worthy, and requires you to rebuild the car prior to registering and titling.

A rebuilt title is your salvage car’s final form, so to speak. You get one of these bad boys after you’ve completely repaired all the damage to your car. You also need to go through the inspection process, which may require you to submit for separate saftey and security inspections.

Is It Hard To Get A Salvage Title?

Luckily, getting a salvage title is not that difficult. Although the regulations can appear complicated when you look at them on your local government’s shitty website, know that the process for getting a salvage title is simple.

Getting a rebuilt title (which you’ll need to actually drive your car legally) is a bit more difficult however.

Here’s how it works.

  • In some states, the insurance company covering your car is automatically required to apply for the salvage certificate/salvage title. In this case, you don’t have to do anything.
  • In other states, you’ll have to apply for the salvage title yourself. This usually requires you to fill out an application, and include a small fee (between $10-$50 dollars, usually) along with the insurance estimate. You mail these in to the correct state authority, and in return you recieve your salvage title.

All told, getting the salvage title won’t take you more than 15-20 minutes of your time filling out the actual application, and then however long it takes for your state’s authority to send you back the salvage title.

That’s it! The process for getting a rebuilt title is a bit different, but that’s not something we need to cover here.

How Much Does A Salvage Title Cost?

Getting a salvage title will cost you somewhere between $4 and $97 dollars. In most states, it’s somewhere between $10-$50 dollars, so you should expect to pay about this much.

The cost of the salvage title is generally for re-titling the car itself, but in some states it also includes seperate registration and application fees. For a more specific look, check your local DMV website.

Can You Still Get Car Insurance With a Salvage Title?

To be clear – in most states, you can’t drive a car with a salvage title. When people ask how to get insurance with a salvage title, what they really mean is how to get insurance with a rebuilt title.

If you try to get insurance with a salvage title, you’ll be denied. The exception to that is if the state you’re in does not issue rebuilt titles, and instead considers a salvage title to be a road worthy title.

Again, check your local salvage title/rebuilt title laws to confirm if this is the case.

As I’ve previously described, a rebuilt/rebuilt salvage title is a vehicle that’s been declared a total loss by the insurance company or by the owner, and has been completely rebuilt in order to get back on the road.

But, to get on the road in most states, you need insurance.

Getting insurance with a rebuilt title is possible – but let me be honest with you, it’s not going to be easy.

Insurance companies love profit, and rebuilt vehicles generally are not profit centers. There are more things that can go wrong on rebuilt vehicles, so some insurance companies don’t cover them.

If you need insurance for your rebuilt title car, you should also be prepared to pay more for your premium. Again, this is because the risk of insuring a rebuilt car is much greater than one with a clean title – at least overall.

Yes, your particular rebuilt car may not have any issues, but the insurance company doesn’t know that.

That’s why most insurance companies will offer you a liability policy, but won’t offer you full coverage.

According to carinsurance.com there are carriers that will issue full coverage policies for rebuilt vehicles. While 60% of those who bought a salvage title car were only able to buy state minimum liability coverage, 37% reported they successfully purchased full coverage policies, so, liability along with comprehensive and collision; 3% were unable to find coverage.

However, all is not lost.

A liability policy covers the damage your car does to others, while a full coverage policy includes damage done to your car.

In many states, having personal liability coverage is the minimum to get back on the road, including here in Florida.

With that being said, check the list below to see which companies can cover your car.

CompanyLiability CoverageFull Coverage
The HartfordYesSituational
21st CenturyYesSituational
InfinityYesNo
OmniYesNo
Progressive YesSituational
Safeco YesNo
Insurance NavyYesSituational
General InsuranceYesSituational
RootYesSituational

If you need help finding insurance for your rebuilt vehicle, give our insurance comparison tool a shot. It’s been able to save some people up to 20-30% on their rebuilt vehicle insurance.

Here’s What Has To Happen For Your Car To Be Declared Salvage

When most people think of salvage, the first thing that comes to mind is your car being completely, and irreparably damaged in some catastrophic accident that leaves your car undrivable. However, with many salvage cars, the damage may be completely hidden.

That’s because…

The Insurance Company Will Total Your Car If The Cost To Repair It Exceeds A Certain Percentage Of The Car’s Value

In most states this is around 75% of the vehicle’s total value, however this may fluctuate depending on your state so check accordingly. With today’s modern cars having so many expensive electronic parts, the damage may not be visible at the surface.

But an accident isn’t the only thing that will land you a salvage title.

Your car can also be declared a salvage vehicle if…

  1. It was stolen, and not recovered quickly. If the police find a car quickly, it may be returned to the owner. However if the car hasn’t been recovered for weeks or months, the insurance company may have already replaced it for the owner.
  2. It was in a natural disaster of some kind. This can include anything from thunderstorms, to earthquakes and hurricanes, all the way up to the always deadly sharknado. Watch out for flying great whites. As a side note, this can happen to dealer lots too, if they are caught in a natural disaster.
  3. Vandalism. If you live in a major sports city, you’re probably pretty familiar with this happening. If your car gets spray painted or flipped over and causes just enough damage, it can be considered salvage.
  4. It caught on fire for some reason. It happens. Generally speaking though, fire damage normally causes damage beyond the point of fixing.
  5. The car is an antique/restored classic. This probably doesn’t apply to you, but if you happen to see an old car rolling down the side of the road, it may be a salvage titled vehicle. The restored vehicle probably needed significant work to get back on the road, which may designate it salvage in certain states.  

Assuming one of these happens to you, what happens next is up to the insurance company.

The Insurance Company Estimate

Once your car has been damaged, it’s up to the insurance company if they’re going to total it or not. Generally, your car will have to have sustained damage that’s about 75-90% of its total value in order to be totaled.

If the insurance adjustor sent to examine your car determines that it’s going to be a total loss, you’ll then generally be issued a salvage certificate, which is a bit different than a salvage title.

Once you get your hands on the salvage certificate, then your work really begins.

What’s The Difference?

A salvage certificate and a salvage title both identify your vehicle as salvage. The difference is, if you have a salvage certificate, you’re not allowed to operate your vehicle on the road.

A salvage certificate should also indicate that it’s a certificate, and NOT a title.

A salvage title, on the other hand, is what you’ll receive after your car has gone through inspection. For example, in California, this requires you to get a safety inspection from a brake and lamp inspection station, and a VIN inspection prior to you applying for a salvage title by filling out an application.

I’ve also written a full article on the salvage title laws by state – which I strongly suggest that you go read in order to get a handle on what you have to do.

This process differs from state to state, so check with your local DMV to get the most up to date differences.

Getting The Repair Done

In order to get a salvage title from a salvage certificate, you’ll need to repair the original damage that the car was totaled for. In order to have this done, you’ll need to get a copy of the original estimate of the damage.

This estimate is based upon what the insurance company thinks it will cost to repair the vehicle – which means the total cost may actually be above or below what they estimate. You should be prepared to pay this cost if you want to get a salvage title.

However, just repairing what the insurance company estimated is not enough. Many states require you to submit to a VIN inspection, as well as an inspection by the local police department in order to make sure your car is not using stolen parts.

Other states will also require a safety inspection, which you should be prepared to submit for.

To make sure you pass this inspection, you should also have your mechanic perform an inspection of the car to look for other issues not covered in the original repair estimate. By having your mechanic check for anything the adjustor may have missed, you’ll make sure your new vehicle exceeds the standard to pass any inspections needed.

When you are getting your car repaired, you should ask the mechanic to document which parts he or she used, as it will make your life easier later.

Re-Titling The Car (If You Have A Salvage Certificate/Existing Title)

To retitle your car, you’ll need:

  1. The original damage estimate from the insurance company for some states.
  2. The receipt from where you had those repairs done.
  3. Detailed documentation of the parts used.
  4. An understanding of what each DMV requires to retitle your car. Different states will have different inspection procedures (see this).

Getting A Salvage Certificate If The Car You Bought Doesn’t Come With One

Let me preface this by saying in some states it’s illegal to sell a car without a title, whether it’s salvaged or clean. You should double-check the vehicle’s previous owner, whether it was the insurance company, the mechanic who performed the work on it, or a private party in order to receive a replacement title which you can have signed over to you.

For those states where it’s not illegal, here’s what you need:

  1. The car’s VIN number (which you can find on the lower part of the front windshield, normally on either the driver’s or passenger’s side)
  2. The vehicle’s year, make, model, and mileage. The first 3 you can use a VIN lookup to find.
  3. Determine where you’ll need to go for a replacement title. In some states this could be the DMV/RMV, in others it may be a tax collector.
  4. Bill of sale
  5. Application (sometimes these can be found online)

Once you have all of the required information, you’ll need to fill out the application, either in person or online. Once you’ve done that, congratulations! You should have a salvage title.

Is Getting A Salvage Title Worth The Effort?

Credit: The Balance

It depends.

I’ve been a mechanic for nearly 20 years now, and the advice I always give first time salvage buyers is this: do your due diligence and have your mechanic do theirs as well.

With that in mind, the “it depends” answer, is really more of a “you can do this, but I wouldn’t recommend it!”

The reason salvage cars are so tempting is because of what you can get for the price you pay. You can get salvage cars for anywhere between 60-90% off of what the KBB value of that car with a clean title.

I’ve seen Porsches, BMWs, Land Rovers and the like that normally cost upwards of $50,000 sell for between $3,000-$8,000 dollars at the salvage auction.

If there’s a certain type of car you want that you can’t afford at retail, buying it salvage can be a good workaround.

But, there’s a dark side to this.

Pros:

  • Have access to makes and models you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford at retail.
  • Salvage title process is not difficult in most states.
  • Some salvage titles have little to no damage whatsoever!
  • If you’re mechanically inclined, you can sometimes get a salvage car with minor damage that you can fix yourself.
  • If your not, you’re sure as hell going to be if you decide to fix it yourself

Cons:

  • Sometimes unscrupulous sellers will try to hide damage from you. This is especially common with cars coming from Europe, as well as water damaged cars. You should always avoid water damaged cars.
  • Although getting a salvage title isn’t difficult, it can be expensive. Remember – the car has to pass a safety inspection in order to be drivable. This can set you back thousands of dollars.
  • If you’re not a professional mechanic, it’s really easy to overlook a potentially devastating setback. Hell, I am a professional mechanic, and even I’m not right 100% of the time!
  • You may have difficulty getting insurance, or a vehicle service contract.
  • A salvage brand remains a salvage brand forever. Even if you completely fix the car, you won’t be able to get a clean title – which can severely affect the resale value.

In my opinion, there are a few situations where a salvage car might be worth it.

  • If you have the mechanical wherewithal to diagnose and fix issues that crop up (and trust me, on many salvage cars, there’s going to be issues).
  • If you know the seller well and trust that they’re giving you the full story about how the car ended up getting the salvage title.
  • If you plan on driving the car into the ground, and you don’t plan on selling it.
  • Need a second car – ideally not a daily driver.
  • Are looking for a cheap project car, or a car you can part out and sell (not recommended, project cars are frustrating enough as it is!)

Salvage Titles Don’t Have To Be Expensive With Protect My Car

Parts break, especially on salvage cars.

And oh boy, does that get expensive. Fortunately, for the smart car owners who don’t want to constantly be paying for repairs, we created our Ambassador program.

At the moment, we’re a bit of an anomaly in the extended car warranty industry with our Ambassador program, that covers cars up to 300,000 miles, even if you have a salvage or branded title. We can do this because unlike our competitors, we service our own contracts, meaning we’re the ones that pay for your repairs, not a 3rd party.

Our Ambassador plans allow you to pick a deductible for your repair, which can be either 25% or 50%. Once you pay the deductible, we’ll step in and pay the rest.

So if your engine decides to fail, and the mechanic quotes you $3,000 dollars for a new one, we’ll be there to pay either $1,500, or $2,250 of it, depending on which deductible you choose.

Suddenly, that $3,000 dollar repair bill is much more affordable.

Our Ambassador contract is also affordable, and on average your monthly payment will cost less than a night out for two.

Your time is valuable. Don’t waste it calling other companies only to find out that they don’t cover branded titles. 

Get a free quote from Protect My Car today and start saving on car repairs, even if your title has a brand.

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