Can You Drive a Car with a Salvage Title?

Can You Drive a Car with a Salvage Title

Can you drive a car with a salvage title? Generally, you cannot drive a car with a salvage title in any state. The reason people tend to buy salvage title cars is because getting a new car can cost a lot. Salvage cars are usually cheaper, but some cheap deals might not be great as you might end up spending more on repairs.

If you consider buying a car with a salvage title, you should understand how it is different from regular used cars. For someone who does not know much about fixing cars, repairing a salvage car can be tough. Moreover, you cannot get insurance for a salvage car but you can for a rebuilt vehicle, which may not be full coverage.

What Does Salvage Title Mean on a Car?

A salvage title is a branded title on a car that shows that the car has been totaled by the insurance company. Now, here is a definition of a salvage car according to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles:

A salvage motor vehicle means the vehicle was damaged to the extent that the cost for repair, which includes materials and labor, was more than the vehicle was worth before it was damaged.

A car could be branded with “Salvage” for many reasons, including the following:

  1. Salvage – Damage or Not Specified
  2. Owner Retained
  3. Fire Damage
  4. NMVTIS Brand
  5. Salvage – Stolen
  6. Salvage – Reasons Other Than Damage or Stolen

Usually, an insurance company declares a car a total loss if the cost of repairs is not economical or a replacement is considered more profitable. Different states have different rules for salvage titles. In Colorado, for instance, they do not give salvage titles to collector’s cars. In Ohio, even abandoned cars can get salvage titles, even if they are not damaged.

Can You Drive a Car with a Salvage Title?

No, you cannot legally drive a car with a salvage title on public roads in most jurisdictions. A salvage title shows that the vehicle has been deemed a total loss by an insurance company due to damage from an accident, flood, fire, theft, or other events. Before you can legally drive the vehicle again, it typically needs to:

  1. Be repaired to meet safety standards.
  2. Undergo a state-mandated inspection to ensure it’s roadworthy.
  3. Be re-titled as a “rebuilt” or “reconstructed” vehicle, depending on the terminology used in your state.

What Happens if You Get Pulled Over with a Salvage Title?

If you get pulled over while driving a salvage car that hasn’t been fully repaired, you could face several issues. First, depending on the police officer, you might get a ticket and be advised not to drive it again until it is registered. However, if your salvage title car is in really bad condition and the cop is having a bad day, you might get worse than a ticket.

Driving a car with a salvage title that hasn’t been granted a new title by the state’s DMV/BMV is illegal. This is the primary concern, as the car is not deemed roadworthy, as such it can be towed.

Depending on the state and the extent of the car’s damages, you could be fined or face other penalties for driving a vehicle that’s not considered safe or roadworthy.

It is also obvious that you have no insurance. If you are involved in an accident while driving a salvage car, your insurance might not cover the damages, especially if the car hasn’t been inspected and re-titled. You also have the cops to contend with.

If you get pulled over, you can try explaining to the police officer that you have parts on order currently available and going to the parts store to pick them up. They may let you go with a warning that if seen in this car on the road in this condition again, it will be towed.

Driving a car that hasn’t been fully repaired poses safety risks, not just for you but for other drivers on the road.

Pros and Cons of Salvage Title Vehicles

Not all cars with salvage titles are terrible, but if you’re not good at fixing cars (or can’t afford a good mechanic), getting one might not be a good idea. Let’s look at the good and bad sides of salvage title cars.

Saves cost – Getting a salvage car can save you a significant amount of money.Driving restrictions – A salvage title means you can’t drive the car legally until it’s fixed and inspected.
Minor damages – Some salvage cars might have minor issues like hail or vandalism damage, meaning the engine and other vital parts can be fine.Cost considerations – Repairing and inspecting a salvage car might end up costing as much as, or even more than, a regular used or new car.
Potential for rebuilt title – If the car can still run after minor fixes, you can aim for a rebuilt title to drive it again.Risk of “non-repairable” title – If a salvage car can’t be fixed, it might get a “non-repairable” title, meaning it can only be used for parts.
Research opportunities – You can look up the car on Carfax to understand its history or check the Better Business Bureau if buying from a company.Incomplete history – Even with research, you might not know everything about the car’s past damage or issues.

Even if you are really good at repairing cars, you might want to stay away from flooded cars or ones with bent frames. When a car is flooded, it might seem okay when it dries, but water damage can make it rust faster, and destroy its electronics, and even the airbags. To check for flood damage, start by looking at things you can easily see, like the carpets, lights, seat screws, and any exposed screws. If you spot wet or rusty stuff, there is probably more hidden water damage in the car.

Now, let’s talk about bent frames. Mechanics can fix structural damage, but it’s going to be really expensive. Nowadays, most cars are built in such a way that when the frame gets bent, it messes up the whole structure. This can cause more issues with the car and even make it unsafe to drive.

Have a Salvage Car Checked by a Professional

You should have a trusted mechanic check out the salvage car before buying it. These inspections usually cost at least $100, but they will tell you if the car works right, what damage it has, and if the price is fair.

You can either bring the car to the mechanic’s shop or have them come to where the car is. This inspection can also uncover big problems like frame damage, bad repairs, water damage, and fire damage.

Even if an inspector checks the car, they cannot promise to find all the problems. Sometimes, issues show up when they take the car apart for other repairs.

Know Your State’s Lemon Law

The Lemon Law helps you when you buy something, like a new car, that has problems that were not caused by you. But only a few states have Lemon Laws for used stuff.

For instance, in Arizona, if something big breaks in your used car within 15 days or 500 miles of buying it, you can’t return the car, but they might give you money for the broken part. Check how your state deals with Lemon Law.

Getting Insurance for a Salvage Title

After fixing your car and passing state inspections, you might get a rebuilt title, which allows you to drive your car and get insurance for it.

A rebuilt title is issued to salvage cars that are repaired and inspected by the state. Having a rebuilt title means you can drive the car on regular roads and even sell it.

Before you can get a rebuilt title, make sure you have fixed everything on your salvage car. Then, you have to get it checked to make sure it is safe to drive. Each state has its own rules for this, and you usually have to pay a fee for the inspection. Also, you will likely need an inspector that the state approves to look at your car.

Usually, to get a rebuilt title, you have to pay about $75 (depending on your state) and fill out a form. Along with that form, you need to send:

  • The old salvage certificate.
  • Color photos of the car when it was damaged.
  • Receipts and serial numbers for any parts you bought to fix it up.

Rebuilt title cars also need to pass an anti-theft check in many states. In Georgia, it’s tougher. If you are not a licensed rebuilder, you cannot get a rebuilt title unless you prove you are licensed. You can apply for a license from the Georgia Board of Used Vehicle Dealers.

Your car needs to go through an approved private inspector’s or station’s inspection. To get this inspection, you’ll need to do some paperwork and include these things with your application:

  • Form MV-1
  • Form T-22R
  • Form T-129
  • At least one photo of your car before repairs
  • The original salvage title
  • Receipts and serial numbers for any parts you bought
  • A copy of your rebuilder’s license
  • $100 for the inspection fee.

These are just a few examples of how the rules for a rebuilt title can vary from state to state. Make sure to follow the rules in your state to get a rebuilt title. Your local DMV can assist you with this.


So, can you drive a car with a salvage title? No, you can’t. Instead, get a rebuilt title. This process includes repairing the car to the standard specified by your state and then obtaining a rebuilt title for it. You will then get insurance for the rebuilt title car if you have the car’s VIN number and meet the specific company’s coverage requirements. Some insurance companies may be hesitant to provide full coverage though.

Lastly, some insurance companies decide your insurance cost mainly on your driving habits. So, if you are a safe driver, you could save more on insurance, even if your car has a rebuilt title.

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