A Step by Step Guide to Selling a Car With a Salvage Title

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years

UPDATED: Jul 13, 2021

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What You Should Know

  • Each state has a standardized procedure in selling a car with a salvage title
  • Obtaining a rebuilt title is a requirement before you can sell a car with a salvage title
  • There are three options where you can sell your used car: dealer, junkyard, and a buyer

If, after an accident, your insurance company has labeled your car “totaled,” this means the cost of the damage exceeds its value. To complicate matters, the DMV may issue your vehicle a salvage title. Can you drive a car with a salvage title? Having this title makes it illegal to drive on public roads until repairs are made. 

So what is a salvage title on a car? A salvage title is a type of vehicle title branding given to a vehicle that is deemed to be a total loss by the insurance company. But this doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck with a bent chassis and deployed airbags forever.

Can you sell a car with a salvage title? The short answer is yes, although the process of selling a branded title is a bit more challenging than a traditional sale. 

In the following step-by-step guide to selling a car with a salvage title, we’ll walk you through this tricky, yet doable process. 

Step 1: Know Your State’s Guidelines

While you may think that selling a car with a salvage title is a standardized procedure, the rules for doing so vary greatly state-by-state. The following examples illustrate a few key differences:

  •  In North Carolina, a salvage vehicle’s owner must obtain an anti-theft inspection for the car if it is six years old or younger.1
  • In California, the DMV will only register a salvage vehicle if it has brake and light certificates.2
  • In Massachusetts, a salvage title must include two brands: a primary brand and a secondary brand. The primary brand tells the buyer that the vehicle is salvaged. The secondary brand indicates the type of damage or event that rendered the vehicle a total loss.3

Regardless of where you live, it’s imperative that you follow your state’s laws regarding selling cars with salvage titles. If you’re unsure of your state’s guidelines, it’s better not to make the sale than face charges for failing to secure a certain certificate or inspection.

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Step 2: Repair Your Vehicle and Obtain a “Rebuilt Title”

If you’re an auto mechanic, you can save a ton of money on this next step—especially if most of the damage is purely cosmetic. If, however, auto repair is not your strong suit, you’ll need to have your totaled vehicle repaired by a trained mechanic so that your car can pass your specific state’s inspections. These repairs will also help you navigate how to get a salvage title cleared.

Once your car has been deemed worthy and safe, your vehicle will receive a “rebuilt title.”

Whereas a salvage title signifies a vehicle is a total loss, the rebuilt title notifies potential buyers that the vehicle is safe to drive. For this reason, it’s important that sellers of salvage cars obtain rebuilt titles.

However, sellers should be aware that even if the rebuilt car looks and functions like a “new” car, the value will still be significantly lower because of the vehicle’s “rebuilt” status.

Step 3: Sell Your Car

Given the hesitancy of many buyers to purchase previously damaged cars, the last step is perhaps the most challenging. Many may ask “how much should I pay for a salvage title car and is it worth it?”

So, there are at least three main ways to sell your car with a salvage title:

  • Selling to a Dealer
  • Selling to a Junkyard
  • Selling to a Private Buyer

Next, we’ll take a look at each of your options for how to sell a salvage car.

Selling to a Dealer

Perhaps the easiest way to sell your branded title vehicle is to take it to a dealer. Because dealers know how to repair vehicles and sell them at auctions, they’ll often pay you in cash for your salvage car.

The most important step is to compare offers. You’ll need to provide each dealer with your vehicle’s make and model, the registration and rebuilt title, and any information pertaining to damages.

Selling to a Junkyard

The second method involves selling your salvage titled vehicle to a junkyard. This option tends to be an easy method of selling your salvage car because junkyards will either sell the vehicle for parts or scrap the metal for recycling. If this is the route you wish to go, the first step is to research and call as many junkyards in your area as possible to compare offers.

Be aware that although this might be one of the easiest ways to sell your once-totaled car, junkyards typically offer much less money than a private buyer or dealer—especially if the vehicle has sustained major damage.

Selling to a Private Buyer

Another way of selling your car with a salvage title is to list your vehicle online in hopes that a private buyer is interested.

  • If your car is a classic or a collectible, private auto enthusiasts may be chomping at the bit to get their hands on your salvage car. 
  • If, however, your car is relatively common, you may have a more difficult time selling your vehicle given the somewhat negative aura surrounding rebuilt cars.

Nevertheless, private buyers will almost always offer you more money for your vehicle than a junkyard. Should you go this route, be prepared to give prospective buyers as much information as possible regarding damages and be aware of your specific state’s laws.

Likewise, be prepared to answer any questions the buyer has about insuring the vehicle.

Check Out Your Salvage Car’s Insurance Rates with 4AutoInsuranceQuote

If you find yourself behind the wheel while you’re trying to sell, it’s important to cover your vehicle with insurance. Even if your car has been totaled once before, there’s always the chance of another accident.

Likewise, it’s helpful to educate potential private buyers about the feasibility and cost of insuring a salvaged car.Looking for the best insurance rate? Get a free quote for your vehicle at 4AutoInsuranceQuote. Then, choose the best policy for your vehicle and keep on trucking until you find the right buyer!

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