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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!

 

Read the full article on Hagerty.com:

https://www.hagerty.com/media/maintenance-and-tech/retitling-a-salvage-is-not-a-walk-in-the-park/

Replies (54)

Replies (54)

I am sure getting a Salvage Title anywhere requires a lot of leg work, but I learned one thing from the story (actually more like 'reinforced previously held beliefs'). Don't move to California!

Pit Crew

I always ask if the Title is in hand or at the bank.   I have called or driven to many banks to verify this.   The Title must physically exist for me to buy it.   If it doesn't,  I walk away from it.  You can get into too many issues making an "open ended" purchase like that.   The only exception would be for new vehicles and the certificate of origin. 

Pit Crew

Frankly, anytime I have to deal with the DMV I get sick to my stomach.  

Pit Crew

I found that the state of Colorado does not require a title to be branded for flood damage.  A Subaru dealer had his entire inventory declared as a loss.  Someone then took the inventory and sold them to used-car dealers all over the country still on MSO.  I was suspicious that a car still on MSO was at a used lot, and my inspection confirmed it.  There was mud in the air box, and a visible waterline behind the door panels.  I can work with a salvage title for accident/theft damage, but I avoid flood salvages, period.  The car will NEVER be right.  Some poor sucker....

Pit Crew

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.

Intermediate Driver

Learned quite a lot, thank you for taking the time to share it with all of us.

Navigator

Getting a MA title on a salvage BMW 1150 GS Adventure was an impossible bureaucratic hell, so I had it registered and titled in VT.  I asked the VT clerk, a nice guy on the other end of the call, why VT was such a breeze and he said, "because we LOVE the revenue!" At least he was honest. A ratty Alfa GTV6 was easy in comparison (clean title) but the tax was on $8,000. No amount of discussion with the nasty MA DMV clerk would convince her that I paid (and probably overpaid) $2,000.

 

Getting several vintage cars in CA was a bit easier than I expected (a '76 911, '65 356C, and '62 356B, all bought in CA where I bought them) But a move to NC and dealing with the State Police was a PITA. Despite having clear CA titles, an appointment has to be made, a thorough inspection of VIN, odometer, and other legal details follows, then the long wait to get the title in the mail. I ended up having to delay the sale of a car as a result.

Passenger

Is this something that a carfax report might have revealed ? Even if you still

wanted to buy it you could have leveraged the price to compensate to fees and

legwork.

Pit Crew

I was told by the Ohio DMV that you need receipts for all the repair work to get it re-titled. I asked what if I do the work myself?  She said "Honey, just don't buy a car with a salvage title."  I took her advice.

Pit Crew

Another thing to note is insurance. Some insurance carriers won’t insure salvaged vehicles. If they do,then typically the vehicle is valued at about twenty five percent of fair market value. One good reason not to dump a bunch of money into a salvage vehicle;classic or otherwise.

Passenger

My one and only salvage title experience from decades ago: bought a project with a salvage title when I thought it simply meant it would still state "Salvage" when I retitled it and didn't care. Fixed it for my own use, cut no corners, then learned when attempting to register I would have to buy an appointment at the head RMV office in downtown Boston where there's NO parking, hire a ramp truck (by the hour plus mileage from a suburb) to bring the car in, have the truck drive around the block eternally until the inspector deigned to come out and likely fail me anyway. Instead: I opted to hand the title, $350 cash and my phone number up to a mysterious truck driver in an alley at night and was told I'd hear back. Some two months later I got a call instructing me to meet a different guy in a shopping center parking lot on a certain day and time. Voila: clean MA state title. I don't care what the bait is and I advise the same whenever the subject comes up: never again. Either way you do it, way too much stress.

Intermediate Driver

Timely article!  Recently bought two vehicles from the police auto auction.  A car for my wife, and a truck for me.  Both were in reasonable shape for what I paid.  Pay the invoice from the private auction company.  City later issues me a bill of sale.  Now, I have to present the vehicles to the state highway patrol, so they can verify the VINs.  If the city police impounded the car, and the city sold them, why doesn't the state trust them to have gotten the VIN's right?  This isn't a one-time thing, they hold auctions regularly.  Once the HP verify's the VINs, then I can apply for titles, either as salvage or original.  Since the vehicles are not plated yet, I will likely have to pay to haul them out to the HP facility to be inspected.  This is getting more expensive than I expected!

Intermediate Driver

It's very, very easy to stumble into a dark hole like this.  California can be difficult about some things and easy about others, so it's impossible to be so confident that it's always terrible.  I mess with old motorcycles and the documentation I get is pretty sketchy sometimes, and certain things can cost you a ton of money.  If the Cal. registration is expired for a few years be prepared to go to the DMV website for a calculator to find out the tab.  It's available with the license number and the last 5 of the VIN.  It can be close to $1,000.  On the other hand if the owner put it into "Non-Operation" status ever, even decades ago, all you do is pay the fees for transfer of title and registration and off you go, no inspection at all for a motorcycle.  For cars and light trucks you need a smog check.  

Gotta do the homework.

Pit Crew

I would not stand for the deceit you experienced from the seller of that vehicle!
If it has been less than a year since your purchase, itemize all of your expenses and send via USPS certified return, receipt requested; a bill to the previous owner explaining the fraud he committed along with quoting Cal state statues.
You have legal standing especially if you have a witness. The witness can assist with a notorized affidavit. 
If the expenses were less than specified ceiling amount ($8,000?), you can take the adversarial party to small claims court and get a court ordered settlement. While there at the courthouse, you can get the court to garnish the other parties wages/accounts (in case he claims no funds available)
So, moral to this story is:
Good Luck to you no matter which direction you may chose!

Navigator

Reading the article and the comments is a good lesson on why States rights are an important issue. It becomes an individual's choice to remain in a given state because you value the rules or to move to a different one if you find them restrictive. I'm not trying to be political, but anti-Federalism was a big deal to the founders, and something that everyone on all sides of the political spectrum should be able to find value in.

New Driver

I once had a thriving business repairing damaged cars for families who needed a cheap reliable second car. I was repairing crash damaged 4- 5 year old cars, which are often totaled by the insurance companies with relatively minor damage. Pa. stepped in with draconian regulations trying to solve a problem that didn't exist. Several employees had to be laid off and my customer base was forced to spend a lot more money for a decent used car. Stupid!

Passenger

I have heard that if a car is sold through Nevada into another state other than the state of origin it washes the title on an older vehicle pre car fax. Then the vehicle will have a clean title not a salvage title. Many classic cars are sold this way.

New Driver

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.

Passenger

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.

Intermediate Driver

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!  

New Driver

I have seen some scary rebuilds on salvage vehicles. Welding on modern unibodied vehicles isn’t something for driveway mechanics. That didn’t stop my ex father in law from brazing together totals and hiding the wrecks under a new paint job. If these cars ever experience another accident they will fall apart at the inferior welds. Ask a professional about the proper welding techniques required on today’s cars. A visual inspection of welds by a hobbyist doesn’t cut it. Scares me that these wrecks are on public roads! Don’t EVER buy one!

Intermediate Driver

Here in Manitoba Canada, you also have to do something called structural integrity where the vehicle is placed on a frame machine to see if the frame is not bent, even if its salvage due to hitting a bird and breaking the very expensive grill or windshield. This inspection alone is around $500 plus fees to straighten if it is not straight, plus all the other inspections mentioned in your story! Ouch. Our normal safeties alone can average $1000 including parts. So on average, we can count on at least $1500 to get something like your little truck back on the road. 

New Driver

Hey Aaron, sorry you had to go through all that, but I agree it was worth it for a sweet truck!  What a neat model of Toyota; most are extended cab and this one just looks right!

Pit Crew

One thing I learned is that, while arduous, it's possible, which I did realize. I once had a tip top '99 4Runner "totaled" after a complete engine rebuild. If I knew the steps to retitling back then I might have kept it.

Passenger

I was a car dealer in Wisconsin for a half dozen years before i retired.  I bought all my cars for my lot at salvage auctions...probably had 150 or so salvage inspections done in Wi...was not a big problem, was not expensive to get done...just had to have receipt with VIN #'s for used parts bought.  Had to take it to a certain place to get it inspected....The title was branded as repaired salvage for ever......never had a problem selling the cars, as long as the asking price reflected the previous salvage brand, and the workmanship was first class

New Driver

I owned a '99 Tacoma that was very much like Aaron's.  They are FANTASTIC little trucks.  They almost never break and are very easy to service.  Just don't forget to grease the universal joints on the drive shafts.  Almost no one thinks to do that job.  Upstate New York salted roads finally did mine in.  Now I own a 2014 Tacoma, but it isn't nearly as nice.  The new version has all sorts of electronic features that no one needs and is missing some features (like intermittent wipers), that everyone needs.  It's porky, ugly and slow.  So, hang onto your pretty '98 and enjoy its simplicity.

 

Second point....The New York State inspection is very stringent.  I own a 2003 Miata that is also a wonderful vehicle.  But if I unhook the battery, it takes thousands of miles for the intermittent monitors on my emission control system to set.  No code, no check engine light and the car still runs beautifully.  But an OBD II scanner will show that the monitors aren't ready.  The car has been back at the dealership and at numerous repair shops after failing the state inspection, which requires that no more than two intermittent monitors can be "not ready".   No one can say why this car takes so long for the monitors to set properly, but they eventually do.  Unfortunately, if something happens to cause the car to lose battery power prior to the yearly inspection, I will have to pay up to $450 to a mechanic to look for a solution.  Only then will the state issue a special waiver for me to obtain an inspection sticker.  If I lived a few miles south in Pennsylvania, it wouldn't be a problem.

 

 

Intermediate Driver

Carfax isn't perfect. A family member owned a car that had been hit HARD in the rear twice. It was fixed at the dealer that sold the car both times and insurance paid the claim both times. When it was time to sell the car, Carfax showed the car as never having had an accident!

Pit Crew

Speaking of California, smog testing is exempt on new cars up to four years old, however you still have to pay the smog check fee (the same you’d pay the tester) on your initial registration and annual renewal.  I suppose they have to give a cut to the tester, but not when you pay with your registration.

New Driver

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.

New Driver

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! 

Passenger