Whether you can drive a salvage title in California depends on if you intend to restore the vehicle to road-worthy, drivable status again. Having repairs made to a vehicle that has a salvage designation can take considerable time and money. 

However, once you go through the steps and apply for a Revived Title status through the California Department of Motor Vehicles, you should be able to obtain car insurance in California to drive the car on the road again.

Key Highlights
  • California salvage title laws allow a salvage or junk car to be retitled once it has been restored or rebuilt to operational condition.
  • Although the repairs needed to rebuild a salvage vehicle may be costly, once that has been done and a Revived Title is received, an owner can look around for insurance.
  • Owners of revived salvage vehicles could have more difficulty obtaining full insurance for their vehicle, but some insurance companies may provide liability insurance coverage.

Can you insure a car with a salvage title in California?

If not, how can you drive without insurance?

Salvaged vehicles in California have their title marked with a “salvaged” brand, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. This means that the vehicle was involved in an accident or incurred considerable damage from another source making it unsafe and non-operational on the road. This brand includes previously dismantled or junked vehicles.

A vehicle truly becomes “salvage” when it has been damaged so that its repair cost is greater than its market value. Once a car has suffered significant damage, an application for a salvage title needs to occur within 10 days of an insurance company declaring the vehicle a total loss.

The insurance company, representative or owner of the vehicle must fill out the form for a salvage title and submit it along with the title, license plates, proof of ownership and a fee to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

If the vehicle owner wants to try and restore a salvaged vehicle to operational status in California, they can apply for Revived Salvage Vehicle registration. A vehicle statement of facts also may be needed.

According to California law, you’ll need the following to register a revived junk vehicle:

  • Registration application signed by current vehicle owner
  • Junk receipt issued by DMV (will require inspection by the DMV or the California Highway Patrol (CHP))
  • Brake and light adjustment certificates
  • Applicable fees

The California Department of Motor Vehicles defines a “revived salvage” vehicle as one that was reported by the owner or insurance company as a total loss, but that has now been restored to operational condition. As a result, a vehicle that has been repaired and re-registered with the DMV is titled “revived.” In other states, this may be known as a “rebuilt” vehicle.

So, in California, while salvage vehicles may be deemed unroadworthy, a revived salvage vehicle can be registered and drivable on the roadways. More than likely, when you hear about “salvage” vehicles being bought and driven, these are actually in reference to vehicles that have “revived salvage” status. 

Read more about how to register a salvage title car in California

What are California’s insurance requirements for salvage vehicles?

California state law requires registered owners to have insurance on their motor vehicles. While it may be harder to find an insurance company to insure a revived salvage vehicle, there are California insurance providers that may do so. They might only sell you liability coverage, which covers injury to other individuals and damage to their vehicles, but not full coverage to you or your vehicle.

California car insurance laws require every vehicle on the roadways to be insured. In 2006, the state increased its vehicle liability insurance laws so all insurance companies are required to report insurance status information to DMV for all private-use vehicles and allow law enforcement and court personnel access to DMV records to verify California vehicles are insured.

Additionally, a vehicle’s California registration is subject to suspension if the liability insurance is canceled; if the insurance company has not electronically provided evidence of insurance when a person purchases and registers a vehicle; or if the DMV is provided with false insurance information.

How do you insure a salvage title car in California?

It may be a bit of a challenge to find full coverage insurance for a salvage vehicle. There are, however, a few insurers in California (including Progressive, State Farm and Mercury) that may offer full coverage policy, but most situations are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. You’ll have to shop at several insurance companies to see what coverages are offered and at what cost.

While getting full coverage, which includes collision and comprehensive, may be difficult, you should be able to easily get a liability-only policy for a salvage title car. This coverage will only cover damage that you do to other people or their property.

As an example, if you were the at-fault driver in an accident, your liability coverage will help cover the cost of repairing the other person’s vehicle or cover medical bills. However, it will not pay to repair your vehicle, you must be carrying full coverage (collision and comprehensive) for your car to be repaired or replaced.

 Buying a car with a salvage title can be risky. If the vehicle was not properly repaired, it can be unreliable or even dangerous out on the road.

If you are considering buying a car with a salvage title, here are a few precautions to take:

  • Have a trusted professional mechanic check out any vehicle you are considering. The better the deal you’re getting, the more you should insist on an inspection.
  • Get a vehicle history report. Carfax and Autocheck are the top two providers.
  • Check the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. This federal database was supposed to cut down on title fraud. While it has helped, it is incomplete, as not all states participate.
  • Check with your local DMV regarding their salvage title laws. Each state has different guidelines for salvage titles. Understand the local policies before you buy.
  • Check with your insurance company regarding coverage and car insurance rates before you buy.

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

– Michelle Megna and Ashlee Tilford contributed to this story.

Resources & Methodology

Sources:

  1. State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. “How To: Obtain a Salvage or Nonrepairable Vehicle Certificate.” Accessed October 2022.
  2. State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Junk/Revived Salvage Vehicles.” Accessed October 2022.