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Hagerty Employee

Retitling a salvage is not a walk in the park

You know trouble is ahead when you see zip ties behind the grille during the inspection of a car that you are thinking of buying. Several months ago, I found a 1998 Toyota Tacoma regular-cab four-wheel-drive with a four-cylinder and five-speed stick. Not exotic, not collectible, but compact in the way trucks aren’t compact anymore, and ridiculously useful. There was other evidence of crash damage, but the repairs were good, the frame welds all looked factory, and the price was skinny enough. So I handed the guy a stack of hundreds and drove off, trying to ignore the faint waft of antifreeze coming from the vents.


At the DMV, they informed me that the truck’s apparently clean title was in fact earmarked in the computer as “bound over for salvage.” Meaning that an insurance company had totaled out the truck but the state had yet to reissue a new salvage title. Gah!


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Pit Crew

I live in NY and its governed by liberal idiots similar to California. Makes it nearly impossible to title a salvage. Tax and spend tax and spend without accountability or common sense. We have fees and rules even they can't explain. I think we all can agree no one wants stolen cars to be easily titled....but come on!  

Advanced Driver

Sweet truck.  My sister had that model in black with the 4 cylinder 5 speed, but the extended cab (not double cab).  The frame rusted out and she failed inspection and was too late for the frame replacement. 

There are some interesting deals on these in the Northeast US, frame replacement Tacomas appearing on quite a few used car lots...  I'd love to pick up a double cab 4x4.


A friend is trying to get a salvage title for a flood car he bought. Documenting any parts cars or parts themselves to rebuild the car can be a nightmare in some states. To make his car operate, be road worthy and pass inspection he didn't need any parts, only clean the interior and dry out the electronics that had gotten wet. He bought a wrecked donor car to replace his stained seats along with a few miscellaneous parts and made the mistake of trying to document that car as a donor. Even though he bought it from a salvage yard and has a bill of sale and title, they wanted more documentation. I told him to forget documenting the donor car since it wasn't needed for actual repairs, only cosmetics an not to make any mention of it when he goes back to the title office. If asked about parts, tell the truth, it was only flooded part way up the doors and no parts were needed to make it run or road worthy. He wasn't trying to break any law, steal or be deceptive in any way or trying to get a regular title instead of a salvage title. Lesson to be learned in all dealings with the government, never give them too much information, it only gets in the way of doing business.


Getting a title for any car here in Illinois that DOESN'T have a good title can be a nightmare.  You can build your $35,000-$100,000+ street rod, but if the state doesn't want to issue a VIN, ohhhhh well.  Fees, red tape, get a hold of the State Police to check the car, fees, SALES TAX, ugh.  Even cars that come from out of state, especially street rods can be a real hassle.  I know of people that had a good out of state title from the previous owner, nope, had to be bonded. Check into what all is needed on the states web sight before you put ANY money into any vehicle, from the barn yard, junkyard, or a seller.  IF the car has a title, Please check the VIN numbers on the title with the VIN numbers on the car.  IF they don't match perfectly, leave the car, it's not worth it. Check out what is needed before you buy something from out of state.  I have heard that that old rusty shell of a 65 Mustang that somebody sold you cheap, could cost you lots of sales tax.  You know, ALL Mustangs are worth a lot of $$$$, no matter what their condition.

Advanced Driver

I'd take the seller to Small Claims court for the costs involved in getting a valid title.

Intermediate Driver


“What makes retitling a salvage car so hard?”


Various levels of self serving gooberment !


I wouldn't mind getting a salvage title Ferrari 360. I'd love an operational parts car. That's the only thing I would use it for.

New Driver

I've salvaged a couple in WA, no problem.  You need the "totaled" title, bill of sale, receipts of parts used, and a quick inspection by the WA State Patrol.

I bough a 2013 Explorer Interceptor in 2016, flood salvage from a Houston suburb.  Screaming deal on a low-miles AWD SUV.  I changed ALL the fluids, dried out the interior, replaced a seat motor and a window motor.  Got it running, driving, made sure everything worked like new.  

Started the paperwork process at the DMV, made an appointment for WSP inspection and bought a 48 hour trip permit to drive it to and from the inspection.

I brought all my paperwork and receipts to the inspection.  The officer was very professional, looked over all my paperwork, checked the VIN's, and looked for obvious signs of damage or poor repairs.  This took about 30 minutes.  Their primary interest is altered or missing VIN's and using "chop-shop" parts.  The inspector passed me and put a salvage/inspection decal on the door jam next to the OEM sticker.  Back to the DMV for a little more paperwork and my Interceptor is licensed and salvage-titled!  Easy.


In California most titles for cars that are financed are "electronic" and the bank does not retain any paper.  When the vehicle is paid off, the DMV will issue a clear title to the registered owner.  The new owner must wait for that slow (and getting slower these days) process to receive the title signed off by the registered owner then take that to the DMV to apply for the title transfer.

Pit Crew

I just went through this with my "triple black" 1999 Jaguar XK8 convertible that I bought from a towing yard. The damage wasn't enough to set off the air bags, just crack the plastic facia and one headlight cover, which I fixed easily enough, but they totalled a gorgeous, low mileage car for that. After the same "rotors out of spec" announcement, and some unkind words for DMV from the CHP officer who asked "why in Hell did they send you here? This thing's beautiful!" I had "Miss Kitty" back on the road.

Pit Crew

California will require a smog check, which involves an inspection for a sticker under the hood - necessary if a hood is replaced - but replacements should be available through dealerships. The smog check also involves a visual inspection for non-compliant parts. Cold air intakes or catalytic converters must appear original or have a CARB approved number, and this really isn't a big problem unless it's a newer car, like maybe 2005 or up, and that's because some cars have catalytic converters that can only be obtained through dealerships, and they can cost thousands. A friend had left his 2007? Honda Accord parked by the border, and a thief had the cat cut off, and ended up scrapping the entire car because a replacement was only available through the Honda dealer and it cost about $3,000.


One thing I miss about living in California is the incredible several-decades-long car culture that exists there. Especially in the '80s and '90s, I was in possession of several wonderful one-owner muscle cars and it seemed that there was no end to the hobby or resources or like-minded people to share it all with.
One thing I don't miss about living there is the government over-reach into that culture (and others, yet I digress...) and how it transformed so radically over just a few years.
As stated in the story, everyone has their hand out and requires your $$ in order for you to receive their blessing and proceed ahead.
Regarding salvaged vehicles, I tended to always pass on them as my insurance company would not cover them and I wasn't in the mood to go with another possibly dubious carrier with a potentially dubious vehicle. Maybe I missed out on some great deals, but I'd like to think that I missed out on some horrific mechanical failure and unexpectedly driving over the side of Rt. 23 on my way to Malibu...

New Driver

Some states have NO way to bring the vehicle back.  I am a Pa tower and Inspection Mechanic.  When I have a customer who has there car totaled and they want to keep it I advise against it unless it is BS like hail damage then I tell them to ask the adjuster to lower the est and give them a check for the repair cost with a promise not to come back for extras. I hear stories of near a $1000 for the cost to retitle a car not counting repairs then you better plan on keeping it because the value is cut by at least 1/3. and the ins will not give you any money on a total that you buy back until you produce a salvage cert which could take weeks. 

Intermediate Driver

So, what had happened to the Toyota that it was declared totaled? That would also be nice to know.

New Driver

Been there done that.  You had better love that car before doing this because its a he!! of a lot of work, hassle and money.

Intermediate Driver

Good idea. Stay where you are and go fix that salt rusted hulk in your garage.


I own a 1953 Willys CJ 3B that was missing the data plate when I bought it. (For $1.00, from my cousin!)  I live in Vermont, where the DMV simply issued a VT VIN.  Just finished a body off rebuild after three years.

Pit Crew

California... the land of fruits & nuts.  I wonder why Hagerty previously deleted this comment; have they now bowed to the PC crowd?

New Driver

Bought a brand new 2000 Dodge Intrepid ES from an insurance salvage pool (ironic because it was a freshwater flood car).  It was a victim of hurricane Floyd of September 1999, not the “storm” of George Floyd of 2020.  It was on the manufacturer’s MSO, it was literally right off the NJ Dodge dealers lot, MSRP sticker still in the window, plastic still on the seats, door panels & carpets.  Basically a pristine Intrepid except for the flood waters that made its way into the trunk, rear floor, rear seat bottom & “wicked” its way up the carpets to just past the front seats.  Since Floyd occurred in September & this was now the following June, that “freshwater” was not smelling so fresh anymore.  I had no problem titling the NJ MSO in my home state of DE, no VIN check, no visual inspection with state employees with clip boards.  Just a “Flood” branded title.  I was a service manager at a now defunct Dodge dealer back then and once I found out the car was still on MSO (basically still in the NJ dealers inventory according to Chrysler Corporation) I was able to do some “warranty” work before titling it.  The car must have been parked “nose up” based on the water line, so the entire drivetrain, dash, electronics & front seats were spared any water damage.  I removed the entire interior, cleaned & sanitized everything that wasn’t replaced.  I did replace the trunk trim, the carpets and the spare tire (it was a full size matching alloy wheel, it was stolen) and drove it for 4 years and 33,000 mi. without any problems whatsoever.  I even sold it for near retail with a “flood” branded title.  I did tell the purchaser it was flooded in hurricane Floyd and all the work I did to make it “new” again.

Pit Crew

F.Y.I. A flood branded vehicle in Ontario, Canada, cannot be repaired, re-titled, or licensed. Period. Full stop.

Pit Crew

There is a LOT more to 'Salvage Titles'  than could be adequately covered in such a short, brief article. Too much going-on, too many variables, to much variation in laws, depending on the circumstances of the salvage, the state the vehicle was purchased in and the state that the vehicle may ultimately be registered in.
And, then we have 'Bill of Sale' purchases, which is TOTALLY different 'Can of Worms', in and of itself.
Best advise - DO your homework COMPLETELY, before 'taking the leap'.  Do NOT take the 'word' of anyone about the status of ANY title, whether it is 'clear', 'salvage', or anywhere in between.  NO $$ should pass hands, until COMPLETE, accurate & ORIGINAL documentation has been provided and accounted-for.
In some cases, it may be better to just 'walk away' and find something else to occupy your time.

Pit Crew

I do several salvage titles every year here in Michigan. It only takes about 30 minutes and costs $100. All the other fees are the same is a regular title car. I guess if I had to go through what they do in California I think twice!


What do you do if a guy wants to sell you a car that was gifted to them without a title? Can they give you a bill of sale for you to use to get a new title ?


Where I live, you get that person to go through the hassle of proving their gift and getting correct title in their name. Then you buy it off them.

 Contrary to the impression that you may have gotten from the article, in California a car is not issued a salvage title until AFTER it has been rebuilt and made road legal again. That is, in California a salvage title means that a car USED TO BE salvage. After being totalled out the title is surrendered to the state and the car simply has no title whatsoever. And many California total losses actually don't have a lot wrong with them, it's just that at our high labor rates it's easy for the cost of repairing a car to exceed the value of the car. As an adjuster I once totalled out an older model Camaro because the cost of replacing the glass liftgate was higher than the Bluebook on the car. In California we have an entire and often unsavory industry of putting totalled cars back on the road. What happens is that a low budget low profile body shop will buy a total loss at a salvage auction, do the minimum work required to make it drivable, issue themselves a certificate that the brakes and lights work, take the paperwork down to the DMV and get a salvage title issued. No inspection is required. It's not unusual at all to see salvage titled vehicles with unrepaired frame or inner panel damage, or see cars that have been totalled out twice and issued two separate salvage titles. 

Pit Crew

There is some misinformation here:

California allows the registration of out-of-state vehicles that do not have California smog equipment if the vehicle has more than 7,500 miles.

Titling a Salvage vehicle does require brake & light inspections (which are also safety inspections. I had one car fail because the horn didn't work). Otherwise it is the same as bringing in a vehicle from out of state: You need to have the VIN verified and a commercial vehicle needs a weight certificate. The fees are hefty, but not because it is a salvage vehicle, but because California registration is fee heavy. The only salvage-specific fee is a $50 CHP inspection fee, and it is not clear when that is required (I did not have to get a CHP inspection or pay the fee).

New Driver

We wouldn't touch a write off (as we call 'em...) with a bargepole, here in the UK. We've also seen everything here, two cars "welded" together etc., etc. Only good for parts.


I bought a BMW M3 with a salvage title. Low miles and great price. I did, however, learn it was a tremendous amount of work to get it registered in Connecticut. Fortunately, it turned out to be a great car and the quality of the repairs were thankfully done right and I enjoyed driving it for six years and just sold it for only $3K less than I bought it for. The buyer knew cars (worked at a dealership) and felt if I drove it for six years it was probably fine. In short, I got a great discount on the front end but many buyers can be skeptic of a rebuilt car on the resale, so something to always consider. I got lucky. I also bought a Subaru five years ago with a rebuilt title that my kids continue to drive, and I also got lucky. Key learnings...... it can be a headache, there will be surprises, takes time, patience, and risk. DMV needed the receipts of all the work done for the rebuild and I trailered it 1-hour to DMV. Always consider if you plan to sell the car, you often will need to discount the price. Again, I was lucky. I learned a lot but always beware what you bargained for! 

Pit Crew

Something that is showing up in YouTube videos:  Apparently Tesla Motors has people following the insurance salvage auctions and they record the VINs of Teslas that have been sold as salvage. Then they disable that car's ability to use Superchargers and note the car's Salvage status so that they can weasel out of warranty claims.  From the photos I have seen on the CoPart site, it is really easy to total a Tesla. Lots of them with what looks like superficial damage.  They also restrict what body parts you can buy if you are not a Tesla certified body shop. For example, as I understand it, you can't buy a rear quarter panel, perhaps because they don't trust you to weld it on properly.