If you come across a used car with a salvage title, you may be wondering – what exactly does that mean?
As someone who has bought and sold many used cars, I can explain everything you need to know about salvage titles.
The short answer: A salvage title indicates the car was previously deemed a total loss by an insurance company after being damaged. The vehicle likely required extensive repairs to become operable again.
Related Article To Read: Banks that finance salvage title cars.
While salvage title cars can save you money upfront, they come with risks like safety concerns, limited insurance, and low resale value.
This comprehensive guide will cover how salvage titles work, whether they make good purchases, and tips for buying them safely.
Table of Contents
- A salvage title indicates a vehicle deemed a total loss by an insurer after major damage.
- Once repaired and inspected, a salvage title car may get a rebuilt title to become operable again.
- Buyers must weigh major pros like cost against cons such as safety risks.
- State salvage title laws differ significantly, so research regulations.
- For most buyers, a higher mileage clean title car is the smarter choice.
Related Article: Can you finance a salvage title car?
What is a Salvage Title?
A salvage title indicates that a vehicle was previously deemed a total loss by an insurance company after sustaining major damage from an incident like a collision, flood, or vandalism.
Once the insurer declares the car a total loss based on damage costs exceeding a percentage of the vehicle’s value, either the owner or insurer applies for the salvage branding on the title.
This means the salvage vehicle can no longer be legally driven without extensive repairs and inspections to earn a rebuilt title.
Salvage vs. Rebuilt Title
Overview of Salvage vs. Rebuilt Titles
|Title Type||Description||Legal Status|
|Salvage Title||Issued when a vehicle is declared a total loss by an insurance company due to significant damage.||Not drivable or registrable until repaired and inspected.|
|Rebuilt Title||Issued for a salvage title vehicle after it has been repaired to a roadworthy condition and passed a state inspection.||Legal to drive and can be registered.|
There is an important distinction between a salvage title and rebuilt title:
- Salvage title – Damaged car deemed a total loss. Not drivable legally.
- Rebuilt title – This is a salvage title car that’s been repaired, inspected, and certified as roadworthy again.
So a rebuilt title car has gone through the process of rebuilding after being declared salvage, while a salvage title indicates the car still needs those repairs.
How Salvage Titles Work
Here is the general process for how a car goes from a clean title to a salvage title:
- The car is badly damaged in an accident, flood, etc.
- The insurance company deems it a total loss based on damage costs vs. value.
- The insurer or owner applies for a salvage title with the DMV.
- Once repaired, the salvage car passes state inspections.
- After inspections, the DMV issues a rebuilt title to make it legal to drive again.
The exact salvage title process varies by state. But it ensures vehicles are safe after major damage before returning to the road.
Related article: Do stolen cars get a salvage title?
Should You Buy a Salvage Title Car?
Salvage title vehicles come with some big tradeoffs to weigh.
- Cost savings of 20-40% compared to normal used cars
- More selection, especially with rare or old models
- Minor damage in some cases
- Safety risks from poor repairs
- Limited insurance coverage
- Loss of resale value
- No remaining manufacturer warranty
- Issues may emerge later
For most buyers, the clean title route is smarter. But for some specific situations, a salvage vehicle can make sense:
- You have mechanical skills to inspect repairs
- The damage history is fully known
- The car is rarely driven
- You must pay cash due to no financing
Key Considerations for Purchasing Salvage Title Cars
|Cost Savings||Cars can be 20-40% cheaper than similar models with clean titles.||You may face unexpected repair costs, and resale value will be lower.|
|Selection||Wider range of models, including rare or older vehicles.||Limited history, making it harder to verify the extent of damage or quality of repairs.|
|Insurance||Although challenging, it’s possible to find companies that offer limited coverage.||Many insurers will not offer full coverage, leading to potential out-of-pocket expenses in case of accidents.|
|Safety||Opportunity to customize or upgrade during repair.||Risk of substandard repairs that can compromise the vehicle’s integrity and safety.|
Advice for Salvage Title Car Owners
If you own a salvage title vehicle, tips include:
- Complete repairs and get state inspections for a rebuilt title
- Shop insurers to find one that will offer coverage
- Monitor the car for emerging damage-related issues
- Disclose salvage history when reselling
Salvaged vehicles can cause pollution if dismantled improperly, through leakage of hazardous fluids and heavy metals. Using qualified dismantlers mitigates environmental impact by properly removing and disposing of harmful materials.
There are some ethical issues to consider with salvage title cars:
- Safety risks if repairs were substandard
- Potential for fraud if damage is hidden
- Environmental harm from illicit dismantling
- Unfair exporting of poorly repaired cars
State Salvage Title Regulations
It’s critical to research regulations in your state. Key differences include:
- Damage thresholds to trigger a salvage title
- Total loss definitions
- Branding rules for theft recoveries
- Inspection requirements for rebuilt titles
For example, Kansas sets a 70% damage threshold, while New York uses 80%. The salvage and rebuilt title process can vary widely.
Salvage Title Regulations Table by State:
|State||Damage Threshold for Salvage Title||Additional Notes on Rebuilt/Salvage Titles|
|Alabama||75%||Rebuilt title requires repairs, inspection, and documentation|
|Alaska||Based on damage percentages|
|Arizona||–||Salvage titles issued for stolen/recovered vehicles; inspection and documentation required for rebuilt title|
|California||Set by insurers||Stringent rebuilt title requirements|
|Colorado||–||Salvage titles not issued for collector vehicles; inspection required for rebuilt title|
|Delaware||–||Branded titles indicate if the vehicle is rebuildable|
|Florida||Insurer declaration||Insurer declares total loss; specific salvage designations based on damage|
|Georgia||Total loss or >75% damage||Rebuilder’s license required for rebuilt title|
|Illinois||–||Salvage titles issued for stolen/recovered vehicles; inspection required for rebuilt title|
|Kentucky||–||Damaged, rebuilt, or water-damaged brands|
|Maryland||–||Salvage titles issued for stolen/recovered vehicles|
|Massachusetts||70%||Stringent rebuilt title inspection|
|Michigan||75-90% gets salvage title, 91%+ gets scrap title|
|Minnesota||–||Salvage titles issued for stolen/recovered vehicles; inspection required for rebuilt title|
|Missouri||–||Insurer declares total loss regardless of damage|
|Nevada||–||Specific designations for rebuildable and salvage|
|New Jersey||–||Salvage titles issued for stolen/recovered vehicles; stringent rebuilt title requirements|
|New Mexico||–||Salvage titles issued for stolen/recovered vehicles|
|New York||Salvage titles for stolen/recovered vehicles||Salvage titles issued for stolen/recovered vehicles; stringent rebuilt title requirements|
|Ohio||–||Salvage titles issued for abandoned vehicles|
|Oklahoma||–||Salvage titles issued for stolen/recovered vehicles|
|Oregon||70%||Salvage titles issued for stolen/recovered vehicles|
|Pennsylvania||Set by insurer||Stringent rebuilt title inspection|
|South Dakota||–||No salvage title laws|
|Tennessee||–||Specific rebuilt title requirements|
|Vermont||80%||Stringent rebuilt title inspection|
|Wisconsin||70%||Stringent rebuilt title inspection|
In summary, salvage title and rebuilt title cars can seem appealing due to potential cost savings, but most buyers are better off with a high mileage used car that has a clean title according to the Kelley Blue Book value.
While they may work for certain buyers under specific circumstances, salvage vehicles come with increased safety, insurance, maintenance, and resale value risks to carefully weigh.
Performing thorough research and understanding your state’s salvage title regulations is crucial before pursuing these unique used car purchases.
For most people, the smart choice is to avoid the potential headaches and buy a used car with no title problems.