State Laws on Selling Wrecked Cars

by Michelle Labbe

Dozens of Internet sites offer to buy your wrecked or junk cars and the offer of money for a vehicle that might seem fit only for donation or the junkyard seems tempting. But selling a used car, especially one that's been wrecked in an accident, isn't always as simple as receiving an offer. To sell your wrecked car, make sure you are in compliance with state regulations on selling wrecked or salvaged cars. Most states have strict and specific guidelines.

Obtaining a Salvage Title

In most states, you'll need a salvage title if you have a wrecked car that cannot be driven. The salvage title discloses to the buyer the car is a salvage; and a large fine may be issued for failing to disclose this information to a prospective buyer. Generally, a car needs a salvage title if it has been destroyed by flood, collision or other occurrence, to the extent that repairing the car would cost more than its market value. In some states, a salvaged car is defined as one declared a total loss by the insurance company.

Exceptions to Salvage Titles

A few states, including California and Washington, require the owner to surrender the title of a salvaged car to the DMV. Salvaged cars in these states have no title. California issues a certificate of salvage in lieu of the surrendered title, but Washington requires the owner to surrender the title and their certificate of ownership within 15 days of the car's destruction. In Missouri, vehicles less than seven years old do not need a salvage title. The purchaser of a salvage vehicle is required to obtain a salvage title if the vehicle is sold, but this is the purchaser's responsibility.

Full Disclosure

In part, the salvage titling regulations are in effect to disclose the vehicle's condition to potential buyers, but most states have specific regulations requiring the seller to notify the buyer of the car's history and current condition. In Washington, sellers must include a bill of sale and notice of cancellation when selling a salvaged car. The word "DESTROYED" must also be written across the certificate of ownership for any salvaged car. ah requires that the owner give written notice of the car's condition to potential buyers. Car dealers must place the written disclosure prominently in the car window for prospective buyers to see, but non-dealers are not required to do so. In New York, sellers must simply provide a damage disclosure form to the buyer when selling a damaged car.

About the Author

Michelle Labbe has been writing online and for print since 2004. Her work has appeared in the online journals Reflection's Edge and Cabinet des Fées as well as in Harvard Book Store's anthology, "Michrochondria." She is pursuing a Master of Arts in publishing and writing at Emerson College.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera junkyard image by blaine stiger from