How to Register and Insure a Salvage Title Vehicle in California (2024)

It’s possible to insure a salvage title vehicle in California, but it can be more challenging and may require finding specialized insurance companies that offer coverage for salvage or rebuilt title vehicles.

Jacqueline DeMarco
Jacqueline DeMarco
  • 13+ years writing insurance and personal finance content

  • Insurance, lending, and retirement expert

Jacqueline has contributed content, and her personal finance passion, to dozens of noteworthy financial brands, including Credit Karma, Bankrate, and MagnifyMoney.

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Courtney Mikulski
Courtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
  • 3+ years producing insurance and personal finance content

  • Main architect of the Insurify Quality Score

Courtney’s deep personal finance knowledge extends beyond insurance to credit cards, consumer lending, and banking. She thrives on creating actionable content.

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Updated March 1, 2024 at 11:00 AM PST

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A salvage title is issued to a vehicle that an insurance company declares a total loss due to damage, theft, or other reasons where the repair cost exceeds the vehicle’s value. This doesn’t mean the car can’t be operable again, but it signifies the repair costs surpass the car’s worth in the eyes of the insurer.

In California, a salvage title can be converted into a revived salvage title after someone rebuilds the vehicle and meets specific requirements.[1] Here’s what you need to know about salvage titles and how to obtain a revived salvage title in California.

Quick Facts
  • Finding a car insurance company to insure a salvage title vehicle can be challenging.

  • Be prepared for your auto insurance policy to cost more than a normal one.

  • California requires you to complete an application for title or registration (REG 343) form.

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What is a salvage title?

A salvage title is a legal designation given to vehicles that insurance companies deem a total loss due to significant damage from accidents, floods, natural disasters, vandalism, and other major events. When the cost of repairing the vehicle exceeds its actual market value, it’s declared a total loss.

After this, the state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) or a similar agency issues a salvage title, indicating that the vehicle isn’t roadworthy in its current condition. For example, if a car is severely damaged in a flood and the repair costs exceed its value, the insurance company may declare it a total loss and issue a salvage title.[2]

After a vehicle is totaled and issued a salvage title, it can be sold for parts if it’s in poor condition or auctioned off as a salvage title vehicle. These cars are typically purchased by salvage yards, rebuilders, or people willing to invest in repairing and restoring the vehicle to a roadworthy condition.

Good to Know

In some situations, a damaged car might not get a salvage title. This can occur when a vehicle has damage but the cost of repairs doesn’t exceed its value. In such cases, the car might be repaired and remain on the road without a salvage title. However, if the needed repairs are substantial, the car could be a total loss and get a salvage title.

California’s salvage title laws

In California, salvage title laws dictate specific procedures for owners of vehicles with salvage titles. To register a revived junk vehicle with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the owner needs the following:[1]

  • Completed Application for Title or Registration (REG 343) form

  • Junk receipt issued by the DMV, a Verification of Vehicle (REG 31), or CHP Certificate of Inspection (CHP 97C) form

  • Brake and light adjustment certificates

  • Other applicable forms, like the Statement of Facts (REG 256), Declaration of Gross Vehicle Weight (REG 4008), Permanent Trailer Identification (REG 4017), and a smog certification

  • Proof of ownership

  • Additional forms as necessary, like the Application for Salvage Certificate or Nonrepairable Vehicle Certificate (REG 488C)

California’s salvage title laws ensure that such vehicles have proper inspections and meet safety standards before drivers take them back on the road. A salvage certificate is a legal document the California DMV issues, indicating that a vehicle was previously salvaged but has been rebuilt and restored to operational condition. This certificate is necessary if you want to register a revived salvage car in the state of California.

Revived junk vehicle vs. revived salvage vehicle

In California, a revived junk vehicle is one that was previously dismantled and reported to the DMV but has been restored to good condition for driving. On the other hand, a revived salvage vehicle is a vehicle that was declared a total loss by the owner or insurance company but has been rebuilt and restored to operational condition.

Both types of vehicles have undergone restoration, but the key difference lies in their initial status — junk vehicles were dismantled, while salvage vehicles were declared total losses due to damage. After restoration, both need to be registered again, following specific procedures outlined by the DMV.

Learn More: Average Rates by Car Make and Model

Learn More: Average Rates by Car Make and Model

How to turn a salvage title into a rebuilt title

To register, insure, and drive a salvage title vehicle in California, you’ll need to obtain a rebuilt title. Here’s how to do it:

1. Get the vehicle repaired

To turn a salvage title into a rebuilt title in California, you first need to get the vehicle repaired. This involves fixing all the damage so that the car is roadworthy and safe to drive. Eventually, you’ll provide the California DMV with documents like brake and light adjustment certificates.

2. Complete the required paperwork

Once the repairs are completed, you must complete the necessary paperwork. This typically includes filling out forms such as the Application for Salvage Certificate or Nonrepairable Vehicle Certificate (REG 488C). You’ll also need to provide proof of ownership and receipts for the parts used in the repairs.

3. Get the vehicle inspected

After you complete the paperwork, the vehicle needs to undergo a thorough inspection with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) or another authorized agency. During the inspection, the officer checks if the repairs meet safety standards and if the vehicle is roadworthy. If it passes the inspection, you’ll receive a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) verification form.

4. Visit the DMV for a new title and registration

Lastly, you need to visit the DMV with the VIN verification form and other required documents to apply for a new title and registration. At the DMV, you’ll need to pay the necessary fees and provide all the inspection and repair documentation. Once approved, you’ll receive a rebuilt title, allowing you to legally register, insure, and drive the vehicle in California.

How to insure your revived salvage vehicle

Insuring a revived salvage vehicle can be challenging. While it’s not impossible, finding insurance for a rebuilt vehicle is harder than insuring a car with a clean title. Many national insurers might be hesitant to cover a vehicle with a rebuilt title due to its previous salvage status.

Even if you do find an insurer to cover the car, your coverage options might be limited. Typically, you may only qualify for liability coverage, which just meets the state’s minimum requirements.

When shopping for car insurance, it’s crucial to get quotes from various auto insurers. Rates for rebuilt title vehicles tend to be more expensive because fewer insurers are willing to take on the risk. Expect to pay elevated premiums compared to what you would for a car with a clean title.

In California, major insurers may offer coverage for rebuilt vehicles, but this can vary, and some insurers might refuse to cover rebuilt vehicles due to the perceived higher risk.

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Average cost of car insurance in California

The average cost of car insurance in California is $115 per month for liability coverage and $216 per month for full coverage. If you’re looking for affordable car insurance in California, the following table sheds some light on average monthly liability-only and full-coverage rates from popular car insurance companies.

However, it’s important to note that auto insurance for a revived salvage vehicle may cost more than average, and not all insurers offer it.

The below rates are estimated rates current as of: Friday, March 1 at 11:00 AM PST
Insurance CompanyAverage Quote: Liability OnlyAverage Quote: Full Coverage
Clearcover65137
Mile Auto65120
Sun Coast71158
Mercury84155
Anchor90186
Safeco95169
USAA99211
Dairyland113267
National General121243
GEICO132281
Allstate137290
Direct Auto139343
Farmers141299
State Farm153324
Travelers160340
Bristol West175386
21st Century175370
Nationwide215456
Chubb272577
Disclaimer: Table data sourced from real-time quotes from Insurify's 50-plus partner insurance providers and quote estimates from Quadrant Information Services. Actual quotes may vary based on the policy buyer's unique driver profile.

Rebuilt title vehicle pros and cons

Before purchasing a salvage title vehicle and fixing it up yourself or buying a rebuilt vehicle, it’s best to understand the advantages and drawbacks of this type of vehicle.

Pros
  • Cost savings: Salvage vehicles are generally much cheaper to buy up front compared to cars with clean titles.

  • Potential for customization: With a salvage vehicle, you have the opportunity to customize and modify the car to your preferences.

  • Learning opportunity: Working on a salvage vehicle can be an educational experience, especially if you’re interested in mechanics. It provides a hands-on opportunity to learn about automotive systems, enhancing your knowledge and skills.

Cons
  • Possible safety concerns: Even after repairs, there could be lingering safety concerns. Ensuring that the vehicle is roadworthy and meets safety standards might require additional inspections and investments, adding to the overall cost and effort.

  • Limited financing and insurance options: Getting a loan and insurance for a salvage vehicle can be difficult. Most lenders are reluctant to provide loans for vehicles with salvage titles.

  • Resale challenges: Reselling a salvage vehicle, even after repairs, can be tricky. Many buyers are hesitant to purchase cars with salvage titles due to concerns about their safety and long-term reliability.

Salvage title FAQs

Read Insurify’s guide on what to look for when buying a used car, and check out the answers to common questions about salvage title vehicles below.

  • Is buying a salvage title vehicle worth it?

    Buying a salvage title vehicle can be worthwhile for experienced mechanics seeking a low-cost project or enthusiasts looking for customization opportunities. However, for everyday drivers, the risks, uncertainties, and potential safety concerns often make it not worth the hassle, especially considering the challenges associated with financing, insuring, and reselling these vehicles.

  • How much does it cost to inspect and restore a salvage title in California?

    How much it costs to inspect and restore a salvage title in California can vary, but these are a few of the fees you should expect to pay. To start, the salvage certificate costs $25. You also will pay $50 for a total loss salvage/dismantled vehicle inspection.[3]

  • Can you insure a car with a salvage title in California?

    It’s possible to insure a car with a salvage title in California. However, it may be more challenging to find an auto insurance company willing to work with you. You should also anticipate spending more on your policy than you would for a car with a clean title.

  • How long does it take to get a rebuilt title in California?

    The timeline to obtain a rebuilt title in California can vary widely based on factors like the extent of repairs, the complexity of the restoration, and the DMV’s processing times. It may take several weeks to several months to complete the necessary repairs, inspections, paperwork, and DMV processing. Careful planning can help you speed up this timeline.

  • Do you need a smog check for a rebuilt title in California?

    For a salvage vehicle to qualify for a rebuilt title, you need to submit an up-to-date smog certification. You also must provide a weight certificate from a California Certified Public Weighmaster if the car in question is a pickup or truck.[1]

Sources

  1. California DMV. "Register Your Revived Junk or Salvage Vehicle." Accessed October 10, 2023
  2. J.D. Power. "How To Get A Salvage Title Removed?." Accessed October 10, 2023
  3. California DMV. "Registration Fees." Accessed October 10, 2023
Jacqueline DeMarco
Jacqueline DeMarco

During college, Jacqueline DeMarco interned at a retirement plan advisory firm and was tasked with creating a presentation on the importance of financial wellness. During her research into how money can affect our health, relationships and career, Jacqueline realized just how important financial education is. Jacqueline is a contributor for Insurify and has worked with more than a dozen financial brands, including LendingTree, Capital One, Credit Karma, Fundera, Chime, Bankrate, Student Loan Hero, ValuePenguin, SoFi, and Northwestern Mutual, providing thoughtful content to give readers insight into complex topics that they likely didn’t learn in school.

Courtney Mikulski
Edited byCourtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
Courtney Mikulski
Courtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
  • 3+ years producing insurance and personal finance content

  • Main architect of the Insurify Quality Score

Courtney’s deep personal finance knowledge extends beyond insurance to credit cards, consumer lending, and banking. She thrives on creating actionable content.

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