How to Get a Salvage Title Cleared

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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

  • A car with a salvage title cannot be driven legally unless it receives a rebuilt or previously damaged title
  • A salvage title car is not allowed to park on the street
  • A salvage inspection will assure that the car is totally functional and safe. It will also establish that the parts used to repair the car were acquired legally

If you’re in the market for a vehicle, then you’re probably looking for a deal. Cars with salvage titles can be an affordable way to purchase a vehicle, provided you’re willing to do a little work.

So what is a salvage title car? A salvage title is just how it sounds. A car has been considered a “total loss” by the insurance company and may now be either repaired, junked, or disassembled for parts. When a car has been “totaled” and a salvage title has been issued, there’s a straightforward process to getting the vehicle road-ready.

Salvage titles issued to damaged or “distressed” vehicles can make for big problems, but also big opportunities. This article will show how to get a salvage title cleared so you can get back behind the wheel.

Step 1: Vehicle Titles 101

Whether you’re considering buying a vehicle with a salvage title or you already own one, it’s important to understand different kinds of titles and their meaning.

Cars that have never been in a serious accident will have a “clear” title. However, a vehicle may have a salvage title when:

  • It’s been damaged to the point of 75% or more of its value
  • It’s been stolen and paid off fully by insurance
  • It was used as a law enforcement vehicle or taxi
  • It was returned under a manufacturer’s warranty

Even if a car has been registered as a total loss, there is still a way to get it back on the road. 

Can you get a salvage title cleared? The short answer is yes, but you won’t receive a “clean” title. Cars might be eligible for “bonded” or “reconstructed” titles depending on their history. But, can you drive a car with a salvage title? 

Here are the essential takeaway on salvage titles:

  • If your vehicle has a salvage title, that means it cannot be driven legally. 
  • The specifics vary state by state, but the most important takeaway is the car is undrivable until it receives a “rebuilt salvage” or “previously damaged” title.

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Step 2: Store the Car Safely While Working to Clear the Title

If your vehicle has a salvage title that means it cannot be driven legally. 

  • Make sure you can store the vehicle in a safe and legal place. There may be city and state ordinances regarding how and where you may store a salvage vehicle while you’re working on getting the salvage status cleared.
  • Oftentimes, it is not legal to store a salvage vehicle on the street. Watch out for where you leave the vehicle as it may end up in a tow yard, causing a whole mess of fees and headaches.
  • You will need to have the car moved by a tow truck even if it is mechanically sound and able to be driven.

It’s not technically a road-ready vehicle until it’s gone through the process of being certified by your state of residence.

Step 3: Make Repairs

Most salvage vehicles are going to require a little bit of work before they can go anywhere. Finding a trusted mechanic can be a job of its own, but once you do, the repair process can begin.

One of the biggest risks in buying a salvage vehicle is not knowing what repairs might be needed. It’s recommended that you have a mechanic look at the car before you buy, or that you invest some time in learning how to identify mechanical problems. So, if you’re asking, “how much should I pay for a salvage title car,” you need to understand the cost of potential repairs. 

Repairs might include: 

  • Cosmetic Repairs – If your vehicle was in an accident but still runs, it might be necessary to repair the bumpers, hood, or other exterior parts and panels. The interior may also need repairs.
  • Flood or Fire Damage – Depending on what the car has been through, there may be damage from floods or fire. This type of damage can have lasting effects on your vehicle and needs to be repaired before your title can be cleared.
  • Replacing Stolen Part – If the vehicle was previously stolen, it may be missing key parts that need to be replaced. Commonly stolen car parts include catalytic converters, batteries, wheels, valve stem caps, and tailgates.
  • Total Rebuild – In the event that the car has been in a major accident, it may require substantial repairs amounting to a total rebuild. This might include the engine, steering column, body, alignment, or electrical wiring.1

Be sure to have your mechanic do a thorough job, checking and double-checking that everything is up to code. You don’t want to have to bring it back for a second round of repairs. 

Check Your State’s Policy

Another reason to vet your mechanic and complete all recommended repairs?

Some states have specific regulations regarding salvage titles.

For example, most states will not clear your title without an inspection. Others will not allow someone to purchase a salvaged vehicle without a specific license. Before you try to purchase a vehicle with a salvage title, be sure you know what the law is in your state.

Keep Documentation

Keep the documentation for every repair made to your vehicle. This includes receipts of what has been done as well as pictures.

The more evidence you keep of the repairs, the easier the following steps will be and the more comfortable, safe, and confident you can be in your vehicle. Plus, if you plan on selling a car with a salvage title, you’ll have all the documentation you need.  

Step 3: Assemble Your Paperwork

Whether your state has a Department of Motor Vehicles or a Secretary of State, the next step will involve some paperwork.

Having an up-to-date license is just the start of being able to drive a salvaged vehicle.

Some examples of forms you might have to fill out include:

  • An application for a Certificate of Title
  • The Salvage Title Statement of Fact
  • Salvage Vehicle Recertification
  • Application for Vehicle Inspection2

Whether you can fill out these forms online or need to be present at the SOS or DMV will depend on your state. Whatever the specifics,  it’s important to be thorough during the application process. Your safety depends on it!

You may need to verify the parts used in the repair process. Luckily, you kept all the documentation, so it will be a simple process of sharing the receipts with the DMV.

It’s possible your mechanic may need to sign off on the work that they have done on the car, ensuring everything has been completed up to code in a professional manner.

Budget For Fees

Though you may have saved some money buying a salvage vehicle, you will still have several state fees associated with clearing your title. Be sure to save some cash after repair costs to cover the necessary application costs for getting your new title.

If the vehicle owner is changing hands, you as the owner, may have to pay taxes at this point as well. Check over your state regulations, and be sure to read the fine print.

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Step 4: Get Your Inspection

Make sure all your repairs and documentation are completed before you arrive for your vehicle inspection.

Then, after all your paperwork is complete, it’s time for your vehicle to be inspected by a licensed state official. Think of this as your car’s final exam.

You’ll need to make an appointment, and there may be a wait of days to weeks for your inspection. 

A salvage inspection will assure that the car is totally functional and safe. It will also establish that the parts used to repair the car were acquired legally. The inspector will be thorough and may have a number of questions and forms for you to answer and fill out. 

After your inspection, you will be eligible for a “rebuilt salvage” title, and you’ll be able to get a license plate for your vehicle.

Find Legal Transportation to Your Inspection

Even though your car may be fully repaired, you still can’t drive it.

  • You might be absolutely positive it will pass an inspection, but unfortunately, you’re still going to have to have it transported to the inspection.
  • Consult with local tow companies to find a reasonable rate to get your car to its destination.

Understand Your Out-Of-State Inspection

If the car is from a different state than your place of residence, you may need to have an inspection in that state as well. Before taking the vehicle out of state, be sure to follow the procedures for the state of purchase.

Prepare for Unexpected Costs

A vehicle inspection comes with its own set of fees—but if something is discovered to need further repairs, you may be looking at additional costs. 

It’s always good to ask questions about reapplication fees before you get to the inspection.

Getting Back On The Road

By knowing exactly what to expect when clearing a salvage title, you’ll be one step closer to driving safely and legally.

All cars require car insurance to be driven legally, and that’s where 4AutoInsuranceQuote comes in. Now that you know how to fix a salvage title, the next process is finding the best insurance for your vehicle.

Clearing a salvage title can be a difficult process, but finding the right auto insurance doesn’t need to be quite so hard. Get a free quote comparison today, choose the best rate, and put your key in the ignition.


  1. The Balance. How to get a salvage title removed on a vehicle.
  2. Rebuilt vehicles.
  3. Experian. What is a salvage title car and should I buy One.

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