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What is a salvage title in California?


The California Department of Motor Vehicles, as do most states' DMVs, refers to some certain type of motor vehicle titles as "branded." A "brand" is wording on a Certificate of Title or registration card that indicates certain conditions in the vehicle's history. Most states put history brands somewhere on their titles and the wording varies from state to state (for example; Totaled, Reconditioned, Salvaged, Junked, Damaged, Rebuilt, Warranty Returned).

Although California has indicated prior history on titling documents for many years, vehicle history information is more prominently displayed on the latest revision of both the Certificate of Title and Salvage Certificate in a red box near the upper right-hand corner of the document. Brands indicate what has happened to a vehicle in the past. They can indicate high mileage, significant damage, or chronic problems.

The following brands are placed on California vehicle titles and DMV records:

Salvaged - Vehicles marked with a "salvaged" brand were involved in an accident or incurred considerable damage from another source, such as a flood or vandalism. This brand includes previously dismantled (junked) vehicles.

Original Taxi or Prior Taxi - Vehicles formerly used "For Hire" which usually have high mileage.

Original Police or Prior Police - Vehicles formerly used by law enforcement and which usually have high mileage.

Non-USA - Vehicles manufactured for use and sale outside the United States which have been converted to meet Federal and California safety and emissions standards.

Warranty Return or Lemon Law Buyback - Vehicles which have been returned to the manufacturer under California's Lemon Law.

Remanufactured - Vehicles constructed by a licensed remanufacturer and consisting of used or reconditioned parts. These vehicles may be sold under a distinctive trade name.

In CA, a Salvage Vehicle is defined as a vehicle that has been wrecked or damaged to such an extent that it is considered too expensive to repair. The title, license plates, and a required fee are submitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and a Salvage Certificate is issued for the vehicle. A Revived Salvage is a salvage vehicle which has been repaired and reregistered with the DMV.

Sellers, including dealerships, are legally required to disclose the vehicle's salvage title and history, but the law is difficult to enforce, especially when cars come in from another state. The California Department of Consumer Affairs found that more than 700,000 structurally damaged and 150,000 salvaged vehicles are returned to streets and highways every year without a safety inspection, and pose a potential hazard to all of the state's motorists.

If you are shopping for a used vehicle and want to avoid salvage vehicles you need to be careful and inspect both the title and the vehicle. The title should tell you: if the vehicle is salvaged, the mileage when the vehicle was last sold and who the owner of record is. Next, inspect the vehicle itself. Some of the following clues may indicate the vehicle has an undisclosed salvage history:

  • Signs of major repairs on the inner fender structures.
  • Mud, mold, or rust under the carpet in the trunk.
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate attached with materials other than rivets.
  • Safety restraint light is always on.
  • Airbag covers are resealed or improperly installed.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) labels which usually appear on doors, inside hood, tailgate, or hatchback are missing.

If you are interested in buying a salvaged car then before purchasing such a vehicle be sure to call around for insurance since many car insurance carriers will not insure an automobile that has a salvage title. Or you may be able to find only liability insurance and not collision and comprehensive coverages for it.

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