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How to Restore a Salvage Car

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

Buying a new car can be expensive. However, if you’re handy in the garage, you could probably restore a salvage car.

Some people are put off by the fact that insurance companies have written vehicles off, but that should not stand in your way of possibly getting a good deal on a salvage car. It all comes down to understanding exactly what a salvage title is.

Insurance companies declare cars a total loss if the damage exceeds between 50-95 percent of the value of the vehicle. When you want to buy a salvage vehicle, it is important to understand the different state definitions and statuses. In total loss states, the definition of “total loss” is left to the insurer, however, in:

Michigan, a salvage title does not mean the vehicle is a total loss, but that the damage is estimated at 75-90% of the pre-damage value. If the loss is greater than that, the car is only eligible for a “scrap” title, which cannot be upgraded. Such cars may be used for spares.

Oregon assigns a salvage title when the damage is over 70%, or when a vehicle is worth less than $500.

Some individuals who attend salvage auto auctions tend to assume that the high repair to value ratio suggests that the vehicle cannot be repaired at a reasonable price. However, it is not always the case. Oftentimes, shoppers buy fantastic bargains that can be repaired for a small investment and a bit of elbow grease.

Understanding your local state’s department of transport regulations will go a long way to successfully transforming your salvage title to a rebuilt title. Although the rules are similar in most states, there may be important differences. While it may not be applicable in your state, it would be a good idea to document your restoration process using photos.

Repairing Your Salvage Title

While fixing your salvage title car is often a time-consuming process, it can also be the most rewarding aspect of it all. With every repair, you’re getting closer to that rebuilt title, and being able to drive of flip the car.

During the repair process, be sure to keep all your receipts, as the department of transportation will request this when your car is being certified. The cost of the repairs will depend on what parts need repair or replacement. In many cases, body work can be hammered out and the paint and materials won’t cost a fortune.

Engine damage is a more costly exercise. The cost will depend on what parts need to be replaced and where you buy them.


Once you have rebuilt your salvage car, it will have to be inspected by a state official at the DMV. Upon booking the appointment, you will have to have the car transported to the offices. Along with an inspection of the mechanical aspects of the vehicle, they will check:

  • The paperwork (titles, receipts, and other records)
  • Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) to ensure the paperwork matches the physical parts.

Note: You may not legally drive a salvage title vehicle until it has been reclassified, insured and registered. You must hire a car shipping company to move the car to the inspector’s offices.

Upon passing the inspection, the DMV will rebrand the title as rebuilt or reconstructed, which shows that it was once a salvage vehicle. Then it is time to insure and register your car so that you can put it back on the road. In order to obtain insurance, it will probably have to undergo another inspection to ensure it is in good condition. When it comes to restoring a salvage car, being meticulous in your repairs and record keeping will go a long way.

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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