How to Register a Salvage Title Vehicle

by Scott Krohn

Vehicles that have been designated as salvaged have been evaluated as a total loss by an insurance company due to the expense of repairs resulting from an accident, flood damage or theft. Once this designation has been assigned, the registration is canceled, and the vehicle cannot be driven on public roads. From this point, reregistering the vehicle requires repairing the damage and passing the state-authorized inspection. Vehicles that pass this inspection can then be reregistered as either rebuilt or revived salvage, depending on the terminology used by the state.

Assessing the Damage

After being purchased as a salvage vehicle, the first step to get the car registered again is to do an assessment of the damage and the necessary repairs. A starting point is to get a copy of the insurance company's original estimate of damage. This paperwork should have an itemized list of repairs to be checked off by the state inspector. Be aware that the original estimate may not cover the full extent of damage, especially when the vehicle has been designated with a salvage title due to flooding.


To determine the full scope of necessary repairs, back up the original damage estimate from the insurer with a full checkup by a mechanic. A comprehensive inspection of the vehicle by an experienced technician can alert you to additional repairs that may be necessary to pass inspection. For example, passing the state examination in California requires that a brake and light certification test be completed prior to the state examination. A mechanic's inspection may reveal that the electrical system is damaged to an extent that the car can't pass this test without being fixed first.

The State Inspection

State inspections focus on two areas: determining whether the car has been repaired to a level that makes it safe to drive again and that no stolen parts have been used in the rebuilding process. The vehicle owner can provide supporting documentation in the form of the insurance company’s original damage estimate and invoices showing the work that has been performed. Receipts for the purchase of parts can also be submitted to prove that they were purchased from legitimate sources. If the vehicle passes the state inspection, it is ready for registration at the DMV.

Registering a Salvage Vehicle

Documentation necessary to register a salvage vehicle differs from state to state, but proof of ownership, the certificate of salvage and the certification that the vehicle has passed the salvage inspection are common requirements. The need for additional paperwork, which may include an application for registration, receipts for parts and proof of repairs, can be determined by visiting the DMV website in the state where the vehicle is to be registered. After the submission of the documentation to the DMV, a new title indicating that the car has been rebuilt to state standards is issued. The vehicle can then be registered after paying all necessary fees, making it legal to drive again on public roads.

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