How does "salvage title" work anyway?
A neighbor got rear ended such that her five thousand dollar 2000 model
year vehicle was "totaled" and yet still driveable such that she's keeping
The insurance company gave her two choices:
1. They pay her five thousand and they keep the car
2. They pay her four thousand and she keeps the car
The caveat is she has to switch her title to "salvage".
What does that even mean in terms of practicality?
She called the DMV and they said she needs to get inspected by the CHP for
brakes and lights and change the title within a few days of cashing the
check so she asked me what she needs to do.
Heck if I know
Her own insurance company says it's not their problem.
The insurance company which is paying tells her to talk to the DMV.
The DMV says to talk to CHP.
Has anyone here experience with this salvage stuff so I can advise her?
A salvage title means that the car has been deemed a total loss by
someone and was written off as scrap.
However in many states it doesn't mean that the vehicle couldn't be
repaired, inspected and put back on the road, with a salvage title.
There are states where a salvage title basically means the vehicle is
shipped to a yard to be parted out and cannot be repaired, even if the
physical damage wasn't that bad.
In this case I would verify that she can get insurance on it, some
companies will not insure a salvage title. Others don't care as long as
it passes the inspections needed. Then do repairs as needed and get the
inspections required done. Then you can register it as long as it passes.
In most states they use a table to determine the value of a vehicle, and
once it costs over a certain percentage of that amount to repair a
vehicle for whatever reason, it is totaled out.
Thanks for your advice as I realize this is a "California-only" question.
What I'm looking for is someone in Cali who has been through the process
o Only they will know what it takes - since California is always wacky
It seems the insurance companies in California give two choices:
1. They take the car (where they pay what they call "Market Value")
2. Or, they let the owner keep the car (where they pay less than that)
It's the owners' choice (AFAIK).
o But if the owner keeps it, they have to transfer the title to salvage
To get more information on that process, I tried calling the DMV yesterday,
but they put me on hold for 4 hours, and, at 5PM sharp, they hung up.
I tried calling the CHP also, who said that in California you have to pay a
shop to certify that the brakes & lights work before DMV will change the
title to a salvage title. They said they'd get back to me on how that
process works (due to covid people working at home I guess).
I did call an insurance company who said that the only thing it means to
them is if they pay a claim for vehicle damage, then, in the future, for
any _new_ damage claim, if it has a salvage title, then they only need to
pay half of what they would have paid (had it not had a salvage title).
It's Veteran's day so I'll try to contact DMV again tomorrow.
Salvage titles work pretty much the same everywhere really. The vehicle
VIN is reported to the DMV that it was written off as a total loss. That
goes into the system and if someone were to buy it from the auction or
insurance company and repair it for use it will have a salvage title
issued. In this case the owner will be buying the car back directly
which makes the paperwork a bit easier as they can skip a couple fees
that someone else would need to do if they bought the car.
The process is almost the same as buying and registering any used car,
the difference is the extra steps of the inspection and smog
certification and the CHP fee which is basically to check the parts and
pieces used in the repair to be sure they are not stolen.
Those two can be reversed in process depending on the damage that
happened to the vehicle. That is the question you need answered before
Here they require the police to run the numbers first, before you can
have the inspection done. Cali, used to be that way, but they now have
it based on the vehicle.
It will also need to be smogged again.
Well, I lived in plenty of states, where nothing works like California.
o I did find the California web site on "salvage" title but it's confusing.
Notice there are two sections:
o Revived Junk Vehicle? (top half of that web page)
o Revived Salvage Vehicle (bottom half of that web page)
I think the bottom half applies, but it's confusing.
o For example, they say without any links whatsoever the following:
"Brake and light adjustment certificates"
OK. Fine. Where do you get them?
o The web site doesn't say a single thing about that at that line.
When I call the DMV 800 number, I wait for hours, and then they hang up.
Yes. That's what, I think, the insurance company does.
o That apparently starts a 10-day clock (which is the real problem).
Yes. If it were just that easy, it would be as simple as:
a. Give me your old title
b. Here is your new "salvage" title
But it's apparently not that easy based on the fact that NOBODY seems to
know the process but the DMV (and they're not picking up the phone).
In California, EVERY sale requires smog unless the last smog was within 90
days, where the owner selling it is responsible for that smog check.
I'm not sure _who_ the owner is that is "selling" it, since it's the
insurance company declaring it as salvage, but I suspect it has to be
smogged again no matter what (since it was more than 90 days since the last
The California DMV site intimates a brake & light check is needed
o But literally, there's NO INFORMATION WHATSOEVER on how to do that!
I called the CHP today who told me they do NOT do the brake check.
o Nor do they do the lights check.
The only thing they do is the VIN check (they said).
The damage is cosmetic only.
o It's totaled but only because the cosmetic damage exceeds the value.
I'm not sure what you mean by "run the numbers"?
o The CHP told me they can only verify the VIN number.
But I have no clue yet how the brake & light inspection is to be done.
Yes. It appears that even though it is only cosmetic damage, the vehicle
will need to be smogged (about fifty bucks) even though ownership didn't
BTW, here's what it says, verbatim, at the California DMV site:
*What is a Revived Salvage Vehicle?*
"A Revived Salvage Vehicle is 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."
*To register your Revived Salvage Vehicle, you will need:*
1. A completed Application for Title or Registration (REG 343) form,
signed by the current vehicle owner(s).
2. Proof of ownership, such as a Bill of Sale (REG 135) form
or a Vehicle/vessel Transfer and Reassignment (REG 262) form
from a licensed dismantler (make sure you include the dismantler's
vehicle acquisition number).
3. A Verification of Vehicle (REG 31) form or CHP Certificate of Inspection
(CHP 97C) form.
4. Brake and light adjustment certificates.
WTF? There's nothing on _how_ to do that!!!!!!
(That's why someone who has been through this can help.)
5. Applicable fees.
The registration fee
California Highway Patrol (CHP) fee
Vehicle license fee
Transportation improvement fee
6. You may need an Application for Salvage Certificate or Nonrepairable
Vehicle Certificate (REG 488C).
7. You may need a Vehicle/Vessel Transfer and Reassignment (REG 262)
form (request a form from DMV by calling 1-800-777-0133.
8. You may need a Statement of Facts (REG 256) form.
9. You may need a Declaration of Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)/Combined
Gross Vehicle Weight (CGW) (REG 4008) form.
10. You may need a Permanent Trailer Identification (PTI) Application
and Certification (REG 4017) form.
11. You may need to surrender existing license plates.
(they don't even say why)
12. You may need a smog certification.
Yes, this would be a revived salvage vehicle. The difference is that a
"Junk" vehicle had it's ownership transferred to a salvage yard and was
then bought from them.
You get that at a repair shop that can do the inspection. CHP doesn't do
that part, they only care about the VIN being legal.
Well it isn't really that hard, but if they did it the easy way, they
couldn't pick your pockets..
It will need to be because of being salvaged. Even the 90 day doesn't
apply to that because the state doesn't know if the car was repaired by
replacing three light bulbs or the entire driveline was replaced. So
they write a blanket law stating, it's been salvaged, it has to be
smogged. See wallet sucking above....
Correct. CHP doesn't do the inspections, they only care if the VIN and
parts are legal or stolen. You have to go to a garage/shop to get the
That's actually very common. And getting worse very rapidly because the
retail prices on parts are going up daily while the wholesale prices on
complete used cars is not.
Yep, they punch the VIN in, just like they would run your license at a
traffic stop. Then they look at the report and it will show if the VIN
was wanted as a theft or crime car, same with any used parts. If they
check out as legal they give you a form and take your money...
The original title in the owners name and an ID showing who they are
This is the VIN check that the CHP does.
A garage or shop that does vehicle safety inspections does this.
Section 5 is the real reason for it all....
This should be done NOW as you need the salvage certificate before you
can legally repair the vehicle and you have 10 days. Be sure NOT to fill
out the non-repairable section. Select - Plate with owner for
reassignment, unless you want a different plate. This is the only item
with a time limit. The clock starts the second the insurance company
hands you the check and the car.
Shouldn't need that as the vehicle isn't changing hands nor is it being
reassigned to a different vehicle class, this would be if you were
making it a taxi or taking a cargo van and converting it to a passenger
van or similar conversion.
converting it to an RV or heavier payload by adding springs.
If the car was totaled they will assume the plates were damaged unless
you can show that they were not. On the salvage cert. application you
select that the owner retained the plates to be reassigned.
Hope that helps.
As for the salvage certificate, Verify the date the insurance company
filed their 481 form and when they issued the check to the owner. With
everything that is going on they may not be super sticklers on the
certificate but get it done ASAP. I don't think they have it as an
online item or at the kiosks but instead you need to fill out the
application and either mail/fax or take it in personally.
For that you could use the online chat if they will reply. Go to the DMV
site and look for the ask dmv button.
You sound like you know this stuff, where I did get clarification from DMV
today that there are two steps, but, for me, it will be only the second
1. If the car isn't running, the first step is a "salvage title" which
California vehicle owners would have to get at the DMV within 10 days of
the insurance company notifying the DMV. (Motor Vehicle Code 11515,
2. Once they get the car running (or if the car is already running), then
they get a "revived salvage title" (which is what is needed in this case).
I figured this one out also, although I received a lot of wrong answers in
the process, until I finally got a supervisor's manager (that's three
jumps) in the DMV hotline who contradicted everything the previous two
people told me.
CHP doesn't do anything, unless it's a special type of vehicle that is at
high risk of having stolen parts, and then they check the vehicle to make
sure all the VINs on the repair parts aren't stolen. But the CHP won't do
anything unless the DMV refers the vehicle owner to them, so we can write
off the CHP.
I'm glad you realize that a _lot_ of this is "picking our pockets", where,
that's what it seems to be more than anything else. Sigh.
On this "smog" thing, I found out only from the supervisor's manager that
it does NOT have to be smogged, even though everyone else said it did have
to be smogged.
The supervisor's manager at DMV was positive that it only needed to follow
normal smog rules, which is interesting for two reasons:
a. Normally, a car that is "sold" has to be smogged (if not within 90 days)
b. And it's logical that the engine could have been damaged
Nonetheless, this 3rd level person at DMV was positive that it only needed
to follow the smog rules that the car had before it was declared salvage,
which in Santa Clara County California is smog every two years.
This is actually one of the tougher things to find out, which I had to call
the California BAR (Bureau of Repair) to get an answer for.
What is shocking is that the Brake & Light inspection is NOT to California
standards, so the DMV has zero paperwork to hand me. It doesn't exist.
The Brake & Light inspection is to FEDERAL standards (i.e., DOT), according
to the BAR guy (who sounded like he knew what he was talking about).
Worse, there isn't even a _single_ Federal standard! It's the brand new
vehicle certification standard of the vehicle manufacturer!
So the brakes and lights have to be to a standard of a _new_ vehicle, which
the BAR guy told me that even fogged up headlights will fail. He said they
remove the tires and mic the rotors and drums, and they check the tires for
wear and the steering system for leaks.
I asked _why_ the tires & steering and the BAR guy said they affect
braking, which, of course, they do (almost everything does) and he said
they even check the suspension.
He said every bulb is removed and checked for wear, and even a minor crack
in the housing of the lights will fail the lights (since it's not "new"
condition). (Now how many decades old vehicles can pass _that_ test?)
The main worry is now that the vehicle might not pass the brake and light
inspection, which is, in reality, two different inspections.
I found out from that third DMV lady that they will take away the license
plates (they must, she said) and issue new plates at the time the vehicle
goes to the DMV to get the VIN checked and the paperwork handed in.
The title part seems easy. You surrender the old title at the DMV and they
mail you a new title.
This VIN check the DMV will do, for fifty bucks, the lady told me.
(Hell, I'll do it for them, for free!) :)
This B&L check is the biggie, I think, simply because what decades-old
vehicle can pass original standards of no fogged headlights, no cracks in
the housing, no leaks in the power steering fluid hoses, no corrosion in
the bulb sockets, no cracked steering boots, no loose tie-rod ends, pitman
arms, idler arms, ball joints, shocks, etc.
Apparently the inspection has to be by a licensed brake and light
technician who has a Class A (everything), B (less so), or C (cars)
license, where for this situation, any of those licensee's is fine.
The sequence to _find_ a B&L inspection shop is, apparently:
1. Call BAR 1-800-952-5210
2. Then go to
Click "License Search"
Board or Bureau === Automotive Repair, Bureau of
License Type === Brake Station (or Lamp Station)
City === San Jose
Counties === Santa Clara
5. That brings up the shops who have licenses to do the B&L checks.
An A, B, or C license is fine (C === passenger cars, B doesn't exist
all that much according to the BAR, and A is commercial stuff too).
I called a few shops, where half of the ones I called said they don't do
them anymore, but the other half did, where one told me almost nobody
passes the first time through.
(The BAR essentially told me the same thing.)
The funny thing here is that third lady at the DMV told me that there is a
10 day limit, as you noted, but there is no penalty.
You basically just can't ever register the car ever again until it gets
Let's hope I'm getting closer to what is the actual answer, so don't quote
me on anything above because any of it could be dead wrong (and likely is).
For others to benefit from every action taken on Usenet, I just realized
adding one more check at the BAR web site nets only "active" licensees...
1. Call BAR 1-800-952-5210 who says to go to
Click "License Search"
Board or Bureau === Automotive Repair, Bureau of
4. License Type === Brake Station (or Lamp Station)
5. City === San Jose
6. Counties === Santa Clara
7. Primary Status === Active <== this nets only the active ones!
9. Select a station & press [More Detail]
10. Call them up to ask:
a. Do you do Brake? Do you do Light? How much?
b. What's the retest fee ('cuz you're gonna need it!)
c. What do you test for?
In summary, this "seems" to be the process (please correct where I err):
a. Car is damaged by someone else whose insurance accepts fault
b. Damages are greater than "market value" of the vehicle
c. Insurance gives you two choices (they take it or you keep it)
d. If you keep it, insurance gives you less than if they take it
e. But if you keep it, insurance files form 481? with the DMV
f. You call DMV 1-800-777-0133 (but nobody picks up for hours)
g. You call CHP 1-800-TELL-CHP (but they're like, "talk to DMV")
h. Your own insurance company tells you they only pay half of
what they would otherwise pay for the _next_ accident's repairs;
otherwise, it doesn't matter to them salvage title or not.
i. You go to DMV web site which is rather complex & confusing:
It seems you have 10 days to get a "Salvage Title"
k. Then when you fix the car, you get a "Revived Salvage Title"
l. That isn't so easy because it has a ton of forms to get filled out.
m. One of those is a brake inspection; another is a light inspection.
n. Those aren't so easy given it has to meet "new" specs (see above).
o. You also have to surrender the old plates (and get new plates)
p. Surprisingly, you do not need to get smogged (normal smog rules apply).
q. For $50, the DMV (not the CHP) does the VIN verification... unless....
r. If the car meets a "secret formula", then the CHP verifies the VIN
s. You can't make an appointment at the DMV anymore (Covid rules)
t. But you can wait in line and do it all at the DMV when you do
u. Bring the old title, B&L certifications (that's two of them),
old plates, application for title, old registration, and money.
After all that, you have the same car, with a different title
and different license plates, and a whole 'lotta less money.