Purchasing a car with a salvage title comes with a variety of challenges. In most cases, it will be more difficult and time-consuming than registering a car with a standard title. A salvaged vehicle must be properly repaired and inspected before a salvage title will be issued.

 This guide will walk you through all the steps necessary to register a salvage title vehicle in California, including what documents are required, where you can register your vehicle, and more.

Key Highlights
  • A salvage title is given to a car if it is so badly that the cost of fixing it would be more than what the car is worth.
  • If your vehicle was deemed a total loss by your insurance company, and you bought it back, then it is considered a revived salvage title.
  • It may not be easy to find full coverage insurance for a salvaged vehicle. But there are a few insurance companies in California (including Progressive, State Farm and Mercury) that might offer full coverage beyond liability.
  • Check with your local DMV regarding their salvage title laws. Each state has different guidelines for salvaged vehicles.

What is a salvage title?

A salvage title is given to a vehicle that is so badly damaged that the cost of repairs exceeds its fair market value. Insurance companies will then declare the vehicle a “total loss” and issue a salvage vehicle certificate. If the vehicle is repaired to operational condition, the owner can then apply for a salvage title to legally drive the vehicle on the road or to sell it.

A salvage title is designed to get totaled vehicles back out on the road (if they have been properly repaired) and to alert potential buyers that this vehicle has been seriously damaged in the past. 

Can you register a salvage title car in California?

Absolutely, but it can be a time-consuming process. Vehicles that have been declared a total loss in California are issued a salvage certificate, and if they are probably repaired and inspected, you can then apply for a salvage title.

Until the vehicle is properly repaired and inspected, it is not legal to drive on the road. It should also be noted that salvage title cars can be more difficult to insure, so be aware of these difficulties if you are interested in purchasing a totaled vehicle.

What is a salvage certificate in California?

When an insurance company determines that a vehicle is a total loss, it will request and obtain a salvage certificate from the California DMV. Once a salvage certificate is issued, the insurer may sell the vehicle at auction to recoup whatever money they can from it.

Salvage certificate vs. salvage title – what’s the difference?

In most cases, the DMV will issue either a salvage title or a salvage certificate for vehicles that have been wrecked and declared a total loss. Salvage certificates and salvage titles are similar but not the same thing.

A salvage certificate is issued when the vehicle is declared a total loss and when the vehicle is sold at auction, the buyer is given a salvage certificate. Once the vehicle has been repaired and inspected, the state will issue a salvage title. The vehicle cannot be driven with a salvage certificate, but once a salvage title is issued, the vehicle is legal out on the road. 

How do you register a salvage title in California?

Registering and licensing vehicles, including issuing a salvage title, is done at the state level, which means the process varies depending on your state.

In California, it’s referred to as a title for a revived salvage vehicle. According to the California DMV, a revived salvage vehicle is defined as “a vehicle previously reported to DMV as a total loss by the owner or insurance company but has been rebuilt and restored to operational condition. If your total loss/salvage vehicle has been revived, you must register the vehicle again.”

Registering for a salvage title is necessary to get the vehicle back on the road or to sell it, and that process can be time-consuming and require some documentation.

What are the requirements to register a salvage title in California?

 You may also need:

Learn more about whether can you insure a car with a salvage title in California

How much does it cost to register a salvage title car in California? 

The total cost of registering a salvage title vehicle may vary depending on a variety of factors.

Here are a few of the fees listed on the California DMV site:

  • Registration fee ($46)
  • California Highway Patrol fee ($24)
  • Vehicle License Fee (also called VLF; based on the value of the vehicle)
  • Weight fee
  • Commercial Vehicle Registration Act (CVRA) Motor Vehicle fee
  • County fees ($1 to $19, varying by county)
  • Cargo Theft Interdiction Program (CTIP) fee ($3)
  • Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) fee (most trailers are $7 to $20)
  • Salvage certificate fee ($20)
  • Duplicate title fee ($20)
  • Substitute plate fee ($20)

 Then there are service fees that are also due:

  • Salvage and dismantled vehicle inspection fee ($50)
  • Prior history fee ($2)

Finally, a transfer or use tax may also be required. This fee is not due if the vehicle was bought from a licensed dismantler or was previously titled in your name.

What is a revived junk vehicle in California?

A revived junk vehicle is a vehicle that was once reported to DMV as demolished but has now been restored to good condition and can be driven again. As an example, this may be a vehicle you pick up at a junkyard or an old classic car that has recently been restored but was once considered junk.

If your junk car has been revived, you will have to register the vehicle again with the state DMV. Unfortunately, the process for registering a revived junk vehicle is roughly the same as getting a title for a revived salvage vehicle.

 To register a revived junk vehicle in California, you need:

  • A completed Application for Title or Registration (REG 343) form signed by the current vehicle owner(s).
  • A junk receipt issued by the DMV.
    • If someone else has the junk receipt for your vehicle, that person must complete a Statement of Facts (REG 256) form and describe what the vehicle looks like and explain what happened to the original junk receipt.
    • Verification of Vehicle (REG 31) or CHP Certificate of Inspection (CHP 97C) form authorized by a DMV employee or the California Highway Patrol (CHP).
    • If you need to get a California Highway Patrol inspection for your vehicle, contact CHP to make an appointment by calling 1-800-835-5247.
  • Brake and light adjustment certificates.
  • Applicable fees. 

You may also need a:

  • Declaration of Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)/Combined Gross Vehicle Weight CGW (REG 4008) form.
  • Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) Certification/Application (REG 4017) form.
  • Smog certification.
  • Weight certificate from a California-certified public weighmaster (for pickups and trucks). 

To get more information about the registration process on salvage-titled vehicles, contact the California DMV directly at 1-800-777-0133 to get a more precise fee structure.

Read more about how to insure a salvage or rebuilt title car

Resources & Methodology

Sources:

  1. State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Salvage Certificate.” Accessed October 2022.
  2. State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Licensed Dismantler.” Accessed October 2022.
  3. State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Registration Fees.” Accessed October 2022.
  4. State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. “SMOG Certification.” Accessed October 2022.
  5. .State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. “How To: Obtain a Salvage or Nonrepairable Vehicle Certificate.” Accessed October 2022.
  6. State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Junk/Revived Salvage Vehicles.” Accessed October 2022.
  7. California Highway Patrol. “Contact CHP.” Accessed October 2022.