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What is the difference between a Salvage Certificate or Salvage Title?

If you have purchases a vehicle that is salvaged it is important to know the difference between a salvage certificate and salvage title. Each of these represent different steps in the salvage process. When you purchase a vehicle the goal is to do the least amount of work as possible. If you have purchased a vehicle with a salvage certificate you have a lot of work to do. On the other hand, if you purchased a vehicle with a salvage title, everything should already be complete and you should be able to transfer the vehicle in to your name very easily.


Salvage Certificate

A salvage certificate is issued when after the vehicle has been declared as a total loss. This is the first step in the salvage process. Once the insurance company writes the vehicle off, the will collect the title from the customer and apply for a salvage certificate from the California DMV. The DMV will then issue a salvage certificate in the name of the Insurance Company. The last step is for the insurance company to sell the vehicle at auction. The person with the winning bid, purchases the car and receives the salvage certificate as proof of ownership. They are then required to perform a brake and lamp inspection, VIN Verification, and smog check inspection in order to register the vehicle in their name. Once they have cleared the inspections and paid the DMV, the DMV will send a title to the registered owner within 30 days. The title will then be branded as salvage and the vehicle can be operated on any California Public Highway.

Salvage Title

The term “Salvage Title” is used very loosely when referring to salvage cars. The actual meaning of the term in the industry is that the vehicle has all ready cleared all the requirements to be put back on the road and the certificate of ownership or title is branded salvage. If you have read the paragraph on salvage certificates, you will see that these two documents are very different. The only issue you need to watch out for when purchasing a car with a salvage title is the reason the vehicle was salvaged. This will help you make an informed decision whether you want to purchase the salvaged car or not.



If the insurance company has declared your vehicle a total loss and you want to retain the vehicle, you may need to apply for a salvage certificate. if you are planning on fixing the vehicle then you can skip this process and apply for a salvage title. Outlined below are the instructions you need to follow when applying for a salvage certificate.

  1. Ensure the insurance company has reported the vehicle as a total loss to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
  2. Fill out a Reg 488C and take the form to any DMV field office to have it processed.
  3. Within 30 days the salvage certificate should arrive in your mail box.