What is Salvage title? US States Rebuilt Title Rules

How Do I Get a Salvage Car Back on the Road?

By Mike Richards Updated: 05/22/2019 Posted: 10/20/2015

Salvage cars are often available for a fraction of a price they would have been worth if they hadn’t been totaled, which makes them an incredibly attractive choice for anyone looking to save dollars on a new-to-you used car. However, salvage cars may need a lot of work done before they’re going to be roadworthy again. Here’s what you might not know about what it’s going to take to get that “cheap” salvage car back on the road.

Salvage Cars are Illegal to Drive

Any salvage car, in any state, is completely illegal to drive. That’s because these cars have actually had their original title certificates traded in for what’s called a “salvage title”. A car can’t be registered or insured if it has a salvage title, and therefore can’t be driven even if it’s intact enough to be capable of being driven. What this means for you is that you’ll have to have it transported on a flatbed to your garage or driveway after you buy it at auction.

Salvage Cars Need to Pass an Inspection

There’s more to getting a salvage car legally drivable again than just repairing the damage it sustained in the original accident. In addition to that, in most states you’ll have to bring it in to a state-sanctioned official inspection center – usually a facility set up by the department of motor vehicles or a state police department – to go over your paperwork.

These inspections, when required by your state, will ask for different things depending on where you are in the country. At a bare minimum you’ll need to fill out some forms, present your vehicle’s salvage title, and also present any bills of sale or receipts associated with the vehicle or any replacement parts you used in the rebuild.

The state police officer or DMV official may check the Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) on all this paperwork and then check to make sure they match the components and the vehicle itself. If everything checks out, you’re usually given a new title branding your car as “rebuilt salvage” which makes it eligible for registration and insurance.

Salvage Cars Can Be Problematic to Insure

No matter what state you live in, you’ll need a minimum amount of insurance on your rebuilt salvage car to get it on the road. This typically means personal liability and property damage insurance – often referred to as PLPD cover. You can get PLPD coverage with little to no trouble for a rebuilt salvage car, but when it comes to more than just the bare minimum coverage for your vehicle, this is where you can run into problems.

The problem with a rebuilt salvage car is that there’s no guarantee as to the quality of the reconstruction. In many cases, the state-sanctioned inspection often touches on the legality of the rebuild, not its safety, which doesn’t help matters at all. This is simply too big of a risk to an insurer to provide high levels of coverage like collision, comprehensive, or any other physical damage coverage.

The best way around this is to submit to a second inspection, this time done by the insurer and done with an eye to determine how safe the car is to drive. An agent will examine the car inside and out, take copious notes, and then snap several photographs to document the condition of your vehicle. If everything checks out, your insurer will offer you higher insurance.

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