Should I Buy a Salvage Title Car in California?

Should I Buy a Salvage Title Car in California

Should I buy a salvage title car in California? You should, but only if you understand what you are getting into. You seem to be in a bit of a quandary about salvage title cars in California. In California, terms such as ‘salvage title’ and ‘revived salvage title’ can be quite confusing, and it’s easy to get lost in the jargon. If you are buying a car with a salvage title, it is illegal to drive on public roads, and you cannot insure it as a result. The only way to make it roadworthy is to fix it and have it inspected first. Once it passes the inspection, it will be given a revived salvage title.

A car that holds a salvage title has faced significant damage, perhaps from a severe accident or even a flood. While this might mean you can buy it at a much lower price, you must be cautious. Buying a used car might sound like a great way to save some cash, but when it comes to a salvage title, you must be well informed before making a decision.

What Does Salvage Title Mean?

A salvage title is a branded title given to a vehicle when it’s been seriously damaged, and fixing it costs almost as much as or more than what the vehicle is worth. It’s called a branded title, showing that the car had some major damage that the current owner and future buyers should know about. However, a car with a title branded as revived salvage title means the damaged car was repaired and inspected to be roadworthy again.

Sometimes, it’s not easy to tell if a car has been damaged. This explains why most states, including California, mandate the person selling a car with a salvage title to inform you about it.

Should I Buy a Salvage Title Car in California?

Should I Buy a Salvage Title Car in California

In California, before you can register a car with a salvage title, it needs to be rebuilt and undergo inspections for brakes and lights. Once these steps are completed, the car will receive a revived salvage title, which means that it is now operable on public roads.

A salvage title on a car does not necessarily mean that the car is non-operational or severely damaged. It simply indicates that the insurance company has deemed it a total loss, regardless of its drivability. For instance, a car might only have external damage and still be labeled as salvaged.

When buying a salvage-title car in California, you just have to carefully inspect the vehicle and know why it was totaled in the first place. While you might see it as a bargain, it often comes with significant risks. Before making a decision, research the car’s history. A car might be in perfect working condition but be declared a total loss due to hail damage. If you are comfortable with minor external imperfections, this could be a cost-effective option. Similarly, a car might receive a salvage title if it was stolen and recovered within a day without any damage. In such unique scenarios, it might be worth it to buy a salvage title car in California.

Tips When Buying a Salvage Title Car

If you want to buy a salvage title car in California, just do these four things:

  1. Before you buy a car with a salvage title, be sure to have a trusted mechanic inspect it. Don’t just go by what the owner says about the car’s condition. This will help you find out if there’s any hidden damage before you decide to buy it.
  2. Look into the car’s history. Find out why it got a salvage title. You can go to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) to get a report on the car’s history. Ask the seller for repair receipts and estimates, or contact the body shop that fixed it.
  3. Check when the salvage title was given. If a car got its salvage title a while back but has been driven without issues since then, it’s usually a safer choice than a car that was recently damaged.
  4. Regarding the payment, banks usually consider salvage title cars as risky, so getting a loan for them can be tough. It might be easier if you have a good relationship with your bank, good credit, or consider a personal loan without needing collateral.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Car with a Salvage Title

If you are thinking about getting a car with a salvage title in California, there are good and bad sides to consider.


  1. Usually, you can buy a salvage-title car for 20% to 40% less than the regular price of a car with a clean title.
  2. A salvage title doesn’t always mean the car was in a big accident. Sometimes, you can get a salvage-title car that was stolen but found before it got badly damaged, or it might have just a few scratches or dents. Even if it needs some small fixes, it could still cost less than buying a different car.
  3. If you’re fixing up a car that needs rare or costly parts, getting a salvage-title car with those parts could be a smart choice. Or you can decide to fix up the salvage-title car itself.


  1. It is hard to tell how bad the damage is just by looking at the car. This means you might have to spend a lot more money on fixing it than you thought. Sometimes, repair shops don’t do a good job of making the car safe again, and there have been lawsuits about this.
  2. Sellers don’t always tell the truth about why the car has a salvage title. If you buy it and later find out it needs big fixes, you might not have many options.
  3. Most insurance companies often do not cover salvage title cars. If you repair it and obtain a revived salvage title, you might be able to get limited coverage.
  4. A bank or credit union that will lend you money for a car with a salvage title can also be tricky.

Ultimately, the history of the vehicle should determine whether you should buy it or not. You also have to be ready for the cost of repairing the car and passing inspections in California to make it roadworthy again. When roadworthy, the DMV will change the salvage title to a branded revived salvage title. Some people manage to turn a revived salvage title into a clean one to increase the car’s resale value. However, there is no legal way to go about it because a revived salvage title is permanent.

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