What Is A Salvage Title?

While car shopping, you must have come across the term salvage title. Such an option is ideal to buy cheap cars, but it comes with its pros and cons. Keep on reading to find out.

Imagine that you are looking for a used car shopping site when a car catches your eye. The vehicle you are keen on has a value that appears to be too good to be true. You continue to examine until you see two words in little print: “salvage title.”

So what is a salvage title? A salvage title shows that a vehicle has endured some sort of huge damage before. Cars that carry them can be economical choices if, you are a car shopper who is on a tight budget — if you understand what you are purchasing. It is anything but a task for beginners or any individual who needs a 100% trouble-free car.

At the point when a vehicle has been in an accident and the total damage surpasses a specific level of the worth of the vehicle (going from 75% to 90 percent), the insurance agency will conclude that it is anything but monetarily practical to fix it and will proclaim it a “total loss.” What occurs next fluctuates from state to state, yet by and large, the motor vehicle organization will then, at that point, issue a “salvage” or “junk” certificate to the vehicle. This testament implies that the car can’t be driven, sold, or registered in its present condition.

Normally, the insurance agency offers the vehicle to either a maintenance office or parts dismantler. On the off chance that the vehicle is fixed, most states necessitate that it passes a fundamental safety inspection before the motor vehicle office will give another title. At the point when the state gives the title, it’s “branded,” so future proprietors know that the vehicle has been salvaged, modified, or rebuilt. Check your state’s laws on rescue title vehicles for more data.

What is a salvage title?

Frequently, a salvage title implies a car has a lot of damage that is close to or more than the worth of the car. While the specific guidelines fluctuate from state to state, they can have their similarities. For instance, Minnesota salvage title laws say a salvage title is needed for the following circumstances.

  • When the car’s damage is more than 80% of its value and the car’s owner is self-insured
  • When the car has an out-of-state salvage title
  • When an insurance company gets the damaged vehicle after paying a total loss claim

New York’s laws are similar, however, there are a few contrasts, including that the maintenance costs should add up to 75% or more of the car’s pre-damage market value. In numerous states, a salvage title car can not be driven on public roads and streets. Check with your state’s transportation organization or department of motor vehicles to find out what is viewed as a salvage vehicle where you reside. While categories change from one state to another, a salvage title may signal that a car is damaged in the accompanying ways:

  • The car has been stolen, has missing parts, or other damage done to it.
  • The car has collision damage from an accident.
  • The car has had damage from a flood.
  • The car has had fire damage.
  • The vehicle was formerly a heavily-used taxi, law enforcement vehicle, was returned under a warranty or has been remanufactured for resale purposes.

It is important to keep in mind that it is not just accidents that can cause a car to be totaled. Flooding, fire, vandalism, theft, and other major events and natural disasters like hail storms can also result in damage that results in a salvage title, depending on the state.

How does a salvage title work?

When a car has been pronounced to be a complete loss, either its proprietor or the insurance agency can apply for a salvage title. Which one will do so relies upon who intends to hold ownership of the vehicle.

In the event that the proprietor decides to keep a completely damaged car, or did not have insurance coverage, they would be liable for applying for a salvage title. On the off chance that the insurance agency repossesses a damaged vehicle in the wake of proclaiming it a loss, the insurer would apply for the salvage title.

Salvage titles can be acquired through the state department of motor vehicles. While the process changes from one state to another, it commonly includes rounding out an application, paying any necessary charges, and presenting the car to a salvage vehicle examination. The assessment will survey the degree of the damages and the vehicle’s general condition.

A salvage inspection is not equivalent to a regular safety inspection or emissions assessment. During the review, the analyst may do the following:

  • Check the odometer to make ensure that the mileage matches the application.
  • Compare the car’s condition to what was said on the application.
  • Verify that beyond what damage has been reported, the car’s parts have not been removed, destroyed, or otherwise tampered with before the inspection.
  • Verify that the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the car matches the number mentioned on the application.

In the event that you go in for a salvage inspection, you may have to carry certain records with you, including your application for the salvage title, a receipt showing that you paid the fitting expense, a duplicate of your insurance agency’s damage or appraisal report, and a bill of sale for any maintenance expenses or parts you bought.

Different kinds of damage

Keep in mind that a car with a salvage title has not always been in a car crash. There are several reasons why a car might get a salvage title. Such reasons can be:

  • Flood damage: Cars damaged by flood often get a salvage title. Some states will specifically call out flood damage on a car’s title, however, other states merely use the term “salvage title.”
  • Hail damage: As is the case with flood-damaged cars, cars that are damaged by hail can also get a salvage title if the state does not have a specific “hail damage” designation on the document.
  • Theft recovery: In case of a car being stolen and missing for a certain period, the insurance company will pay off the vehicle. If the vehicle is eventually found, the insurance company is free to sell it to a salvager, who will replace any missing parts. Some states will then issue a salvage title for the car.
  • Vandalism: If someone painted on, or overturned a vehicle and caused enough damage, the car could get a salvage title. No states, however, specify vandalism in the title — just “salvage.”
  • Non-Repairable: A very damaged and non-operable car with no resale value other than its parts, can get a “non-repairable” designation, which some states call a “junk title.” In these extreme situations, the state will not permit the vehicle to be repaired, and it must either be sold to a scrapyard or destroyed. “Non-repairable” is not a salvage title per se, but it is important to know of the term in case you come across a vehicle that has been labeled this way.

The signs of a salvage title car

Make sure that you always check the history of the car and have that you have a trusted auto mechanic to review the car’s problems. However, despite this, there are obvious signs that a vehicle is basically rebuilt and should be avoided. Look for these tell-tale signs:

  • A car door that does not open or closes properly could also mean the vehicle underwent major repairs (and was improperly repaired)
  • A Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA) sticker on any vehicle part or component could signal collision repair.
  • Any wheel misalignment could point fingers towards frame collision damage.
  • If the vehicle’s hood is misaligned and does not close perfectly, that could be an indicator of a major collision impacting the front and sides of the vehicle.
  • If your electrical components do not work properly — especially if they flick on and off intermittently — that could be a sign of significant flood damage to the vehicle.
  • Many states require direct identification of the vehicle that has been in a salvage situation on the title. Ensure that you see the title before anything else.
  • The vehicle paint easily chips off or does not match the rest of the vehicle’s body (This could indicate an intent to hide damage by the seller.)

How to get a salvage title cleared?

Step 1

Fix the damage to the vehicle. Save all receipts for any maintenance, repair services, and new parts. Note the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the cars you use for any pre-owned new parts. You should deliver these reports with your application for a rebuilt title.

Step 2

Complete the forms needed by your state’s department of motor vehicles preceding the investigation. Most states require a modified title application, parts certification form, and photos of the damaged vehicle.

Step 3

A car inspection needs to be scheduled with a state-approved inspector. You cannot drive a car that has not yet passed inspection, so prepare to legally transfer the vehicle to the inspection location.

Step 4

Submit paperwork and evidence of a passed inspection to your state’s title department. Pay any appropriate charges. If the application is finished, your state will issue a rebuilt salvage title, and you will be allowed to drive and sell the vehicle.

What to do if you unknowingly purchased a salvage title car?

If you buy a salvage title car without knowing and want to back out of the deal, you can do that legally. You can follow these steps to fix the issue of purchasing a salvaged title car without having any knowledge of it previously:

1. Contact Your State’s Consumer Protection Office

Your home state’s consumer protection office can offer some excellent guidance on buying a salvage title car and get you on the path to a refund.

2. Get Legal Help

Get in touch with the National Association of Consumer Advocates for a list of good lawyers in your state who handle salvage title car issues.

3. Start a Paper Trail

Influence your “buyers’ guide” to put forth your case, the salvage title car was deceitfully sold. The U.S. Government Trade Commission orders that used-auto dealers give new car clients a purchaser’s aide on each vehicle on the lot, which covers a car’s guarantee data in case of a debate between a purchaser and seller.

Can you drive a car with a salvage title?

A vehicle with a salvage title is one that has been pronounced an absolute loss, and you cannot drive it on public streets. In this manner, you cannot buy insurance for one. Notwithstanding, when you rebuild the salvage car, and it is anything but a remade title, it tends to be safeguarded, registered, driven, and sold.

Getting insurance on a salvage title car is not in every case simple. Most states require a vehicle review to check that it is protected enough to be permitted on the streets, and some insurance organizations will be concerned in light of the fact that it is hard to esteem these vehicles. You will likely need to have it insured with actual harm inclusion on your insurance strategy. Insurance organizations are exceptionally severe about not covering previous damage.

You can for the most part buy the inclusion you need, when you meet the accompanying necessities:

  • Current photos showing multiple views of the vehicle.
  • Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) approval, depending on your state.
  • Detailed mechanical inspection.
  • On-site physical damage inspection by an insurance agent.

Is it worth buying a car with a salvage title?

It relies upon how comfortable you are with purchasing a car that has a checkered past. From one viewpoint, salvage-title vehicles can be an opportunity if you are on a budget, or if you need another vehicle. Contingent upon the vehicle, a salvage-title car can sell from around 20% to 40 percent less than the same vehicle that has a clean title. The markdown of a salvage-title vehicle is more prominent when the market interest for the vehicle is low.

In case you are looking for a low-price vehicle, you should seriously mull over a car with a salvage title or rebuilt title. In any case, there are positives and negatives to doing as such. For instance, on the positive side, it very well might be genuinely simple to discover a salvaged vehicle for far less than what you would need to pay for another or a better used one. So you should think about a salvage title vehicle on the off chance that you need a car presently however do not have a lot of money to spend.

There are a few impediments, nonetheless. For one, you could think that it is hard to get a car advance for a salvage vehicle. Banks might be hesitant to back a vehicle that has been in an accident or is flood-damaged. If you can acquire a credit, it might accompany a lofty interest rate or a bigger upfront installment prerequisite. Also, once more, getting insurance on this sort of vehicle can be difficult.

It is not always a bad idea, however, you will have to get your work done. You would generally be suggested to get a pre-purchase inspection, but this is often requested for vehicles with salvage titles. Before purchasing a car with a salvage title, remember:


You may take a risk on a car with a salvage title, your bank or credit union probably will not be so psyched about it. Monetary establishments need to initially ensure that you are ready to take care of the loan as guaranteed, but on the other hand, they are worried about the value of what they are financing. Salvage title cars can have shaky resale values, which means banks probably will not get all of their money back if you default


Finding an insurance office to cover your salvage title vehicle is not hard, however, you will have to remember that the worth of the vehicle may turn into an issue if it is involved in an accident. You should realize that your insurance organization will in all likelihood request, at any rate, a rebuilt title before approving, since it shows that the vehicle is roadworthy and that it has been fixed.

Resale Or Trade-In Value

A car with a salvage title will not carry the same resale value as one that has a clean title. That is on top of the fact that you’ll likely have to do some hand-holding with the prospective buyer to cover the vehicle’s condition and backstory.

Vehicle History

You ought to consistently be looking for used vehicles with a major eye on the origin story. Indeed, you definitely know that the vehicle has been in an accident or that it has been harmed somehow or another, yet how was it maintained before that point in time? Did any of the past proprietors maintain it mechanically? Such pre-purchase inspections can clear a lot of those inquiries up for you, and can likewise give you an idea of how seriously the damage to the vehicle was.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Pros Explained

  • Can use the vehicle for parts: You can buy a salvaged vehicle to get parts for another vehicle that you own. This will save you money on expensive car parts and help you acquire hard-to-find parts. As a bonus, you may be able to sell the parts that you do not need.
  • Lower price: Since cars with a salvage title are not roadworthy, they typically cost at least 20% to 40% less than a vehicle with a clear title.
  • Might get lucky and find one with minimal damage: Not all cars with a salvage title are totally damaged. You might find one with only cosmetic damage from hail. You might also get an older vehicle with a low market price that was deemed a total loss even though it only costs $1,000 to fix.

Cons Explained

  • Could be difficult to acquire insurance: Not every insurance organization will insure a car with a salvage title. If you find a company that will offer you a policy, they may not allow full coverage. You might get stuck with a liability-only plan that will not cover the damage to your car if you get in an accident.
  • Might initially overlook important damage: When a car is damaged in a collision, you cannot always see the full extent of the damage. This means you can end up with a car that seems easy to fix but has more damage than you thought.
  • Repairs could be costly: The car was declared salvaged for a reason. It needs repairs, and these repairs are costly when you factor in parts and labor.

What is bad about a salvage title?

Picking a car with a salvage title can be perilous if the car has not been properly fixed or rebuilt. States normally require a “rebuilt title” and inspection if the car has been fixed, to guarantee that it is roadworthy once more. However, your safety could in any case be in danger. If the past owner rebuilt the car’s exterior but did not fix significant safety features like airbags, you could be truly harmed if you get into an accident.

Regardless of whether a car has been totally rebuilt, it might not have been fixed well. On the off chance that there was huge frame damage, you may find out that the doors do not close properly or the windows do not seal as expected. You will likewise need to look out for “title washing.” Title washing implies unlawfully eliminating a car’s branded title status. Exploitative auto dealers may apply for another title for the salvage vehicle in an alternate state or retain data on another title application.

Does a salvage title affect insurance?

You cannot insure a car with a salvage title, since these vehicles cannot be driven on public roads. Cars with rebuilt titles can be insured, however, the process is more troublesome than for cars with clean titles. Most insurance agencies will compose a liability policy for a rebuilt title car, however are often reluctant to expand a full coverage policy.

Since it is now difficult to dole out an accurate value to a rebuilt salvage title car and the insurer will be unable to decide if damages were because of a specific occurrence or already existed, it is harder to get optional coverage — like collision and comprehensive.

Another issue is the higher risk of safety concerns. Reconditioned salvage title cars may have issues that were not addressed in the rebuilding process and can prompt risks on the road. For instance, a specialist may ignore certain underlying or alignment issues, or even hold back on specific methods during the rebuilding to help profitability. Car insurance agencies understand the dangers of the present circumstance and regularly expect rebuilt salvage title cars will be bound to bring about an insurance claim.

A few insurers will not cover rebuilt salvage title cars — regardless of whether you simply need liability insurance — so be set up to search around with different carriers. In the event that you need full coverage car insurance, with comprehensive coverage, you will need to contact a few insurers to get contending quotes. Compare at least three to four quotes when looking for rebuilt salvage car protection.

Not every insurance agency will charge more for rebuilt title vehicles, however, a few insurers will add an additional charge of up to 20%. If the sum that you are paying in car insurance surpasses the sum you saved by buying a rebuilt salvage car, then, at that point, you might need to rethink your choices.

Whenever you have discovered an insurer that will cover a rebuilt salvage car, you will ordinarily have to give them the following to get a quote and buy a strategy:

  • Certified mechanic’s statement: This is needed by most insurers to verify that the car is in good working order.
  • Photos of your car: Pictures of your car — and video in some situations — will be necessary if you want full coverage insurance. The photos act as “before” images that the insurer can compare damage to if you make a claim.
  • Your car’s original repair estimate: The original repair estimate should be given to you when you purchase a rebuilt title car, as it details the damages and improvements made to the vehicle. By getting the original repair estimate from the rebuilder or the insurance organization that totaled the car, you give the insurance company proof that all damage has been repaired.


Salvage vehicles regularly present a larger number of dangers than most car purchasers will deal with. Except if you are a talented technician or you are searching for an undertaking car, it is normally best to try not to purchase salvage title cars. Safety concerns, the potential for exorbitant fixes, and trouble guaranteeing and selling your car can settle on the choice clear for the vast majority. In case you’re thinking about it, make certain to get a vehicle history report and have a believed technician assess the car.

Be that as it may, imagine a scenario in which you love your destroyed car and do not have any desire to leave behind it, even after it is anything but a salvage title car. On the off chance that that is the situation, simply make certain to keep your eyes totally open to every one of the exorbitant potential outcomes. At times insurance agencies will permit you to keep an added up to the car and lessen your payout by the excess value. However, be set up to take care of a powerful fix bill to get your car back into great shape. That being said, the car’s value after fixes will probably be a lot lower as a result of the salvage title.

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

Tony Benett makes his living in the insurance industry by teaching and consulting. He is also recognized by the legal profession as an expert on insurance coverages. His insurance experience includes having worked at the company level, owned an independent general agency and having worked for an insurance association. He has received various certificates over the past few years and helps his clients and readers by giving them a realistic outlook on what they can expect to achieve within their set targets. At Insurance Noon, he is known for his in-depth analysis and attention to details with accuracy. He has been published as one of the most referred agents by his peers in the insurance community. Tony loves the outdoors and most sport events. His passion other than providing excellent advice is playing golf.

Insurance Noon is the world's leading source of insurance related content on the web, focusing on industry news, buying guides, reviews, and much more.