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If you’re shopping for a used car and come across one listed well below fair market value, chances are you may have stumbled upon a salvage title vehicle. 

Learn more about salvage titles below. 


Be sure to equip yourself with all the facts when shopping for a used car to make sure you get the best deal. Get started at VINvaquero.com:

What does a salvage title mean? 

A salvage title is one of the more common types of branded car titles.

A Salvage Title Brand is issued to a vehicle when it has been declared a total loss as a result of a collision, flood, fire, vandalism, theft, or other damage. 

The threshold for total loss is determined by the estimated repair or replacement costs in relation to the current market value of the vehicle. 

In most states, the threshold for determining total loss ranges from damages between 50% to 90% of the value of the vehicle. 

After the total loss has been determined, the insurance company or the vehicle owner will apply for a salvage title through the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the title records will be updated to reflect the new brand.   

How much does a salvage title devalue a car?

A salvage title will reduce the value of a vehicle considerably. 

In most cases a vehicle with a salvage title will be valued anywhere from 40% to 70% less than the same vehicle with a clean title. 

How to Tell is a Title is Clean or Salvage

Checking a car’s title status is fairly simple. 

You’ll need to order a vehicle history report or check the VIN to see a car’s title status. 

Salvage title status can typically be checked for free. 

While more information about the vehicle may require you to purchase a full vehicle history report. 

Learn more: How to Check the Status of a Car Title

This should always be a step you take when shopping for used cars. 

What does a salvage title look like? 

A certificate of title that has been branded as “Salvaged” will look pretty much the same as a clean title aside from one small, but important difference. 

In the section that lists title brands, the word “Salvage”, “Salvaged,” “Junk”, or “Total Loss” will be printed. 

Again, you can find out if a vehicle has a salvage title or a clean title by checking its vehicle history and title records. 

How to Get a Salvage Title Cleared

Once a car has been declared a total loss and a salvage title has been issued, it cannot be driven or registered until the salvage title is cleared. 

Steps vary slightly from state to state, but will typically involve:

  • Having the vehicle repaired and getting the damaged parts replaced. 
  • Keeping records, receipts, and Bill of Sale for any major parts added, repaired, or replaced. 
  • Bringing the vehicle to an inspection station.
  • Having the VIN checked. 
  • Having the vehicle pass smog and safety inspections. 
  • Pay the necessary inspection and titling fees. 

If the vehicle passes inspections and is determined to be safe to drive, you’ll be able to clear the salvage status and apply for a rebuilt title. 

This will allow you to register the vehicle again. 

What is a rebuilt salvage title?

A rebuilt salvage title, revived salvage title, or rebuilt title is the title brand that will be assigned to the vehicle once the salvage title is cleared. 

While you will now be able to register and drive a rebuilt title vehicle, the market value will still generally be reduced and some insurance companies may decline to sell you coverage. 

How to Register a Salvage Title Vehicle

In order to register a salvage vehicle, you’ll first need to clear the title brand. 

To do so, you’ll need to:

  • Get the vehicle repaired back to safe operating condition. 
  • Have the vehicle inspected and VIN verified. 
  • Provide proof of ownership. 
  • Provide receipts for any major repairs or replacement parts. 
  • Complete all the necessary smog and safety inspections. 
  • Complete an application for title and registration. 
  • Pay all the necessary fees. 

For more details, contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. 

Salvage Vehicle Laws by State