Reader Question: Salvage Title?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Bin asks: I recently had a minor accident in a neighboring state. A truck hauling scrap in a utility trailer lost a piece of steel which I hit, puncturing my oil pan. My car is old and of little value, so the insurance company totaled it. At first they would not allow me to retain the car, but I pestered them enough and I bought it back. Towed it back home, slapped on a new pan and oil pump and it’s good to go. That was 2 months ago, it has been sitting. My state refuses to issue a salvage title because accident occurred in another state. Other state refuses to issue me a salvage title because I am not a resident of that state. So if your car is totaled in another state, do you forfeit your right to keep your car? This doesn’t seem right.

Is there anything I can do here besides part my car out?

My reply: First, this sucks. Through no fault of your own, you were damaged – and then damaged again, by the insurance mafia. Just another reason to loathe the insurance mafia.

In the first place, they should have paid for the repair. Replacing an oil pan/oil pump is not generally a four figure job. I am betting your car was worth at least $1,000 and even if not,  the damage caused was their fault – not yours. To “total” the car is to deprive you of the value of your formerly working car; note the SOBs did not give you replacement value.

I wish I’d known about this sooner. I would have counseled you to not settle for anything less than making you whole. Their policyholder could reasonably be accused of recklessness as “scraps of metal” falling off a truck into the path of other cars could have killed someone. Noting this fact – and hinted at litigation – in a letter to the mafia might have made an impression.

Worst case, you could have got them to issue you a check for the cost of parts, done the labor yourself – and not had to deal with a “totaled” (or “salvage”) title.

Laws vary from state to state, but it is usually possible to get the vehicle title/registered after it has been “totaled.” The re-issued title may say “salvage” or something along those lines – and that will greatly hurt resale value – but if you just want to be able to be able to register/plate and drive the car, it is of no consequence.

I have never heard of the situation you describe – the state DMV refusing to give you a “salvage” title because the accident occurred out-of-state. Why this would have any bearing escapes me – other than the usual arbitrary bureaucratic idiocies.

In some states, you may be required to pass a “safety” inspection – but in this case, the damage which led to the “totaling” is irrelevant as regards any of the vehicle’s “safety” equipment. It was a mechanical issue.

I’d find out exactly what the law is in your state; maybe talk with another DMV official. I’d also ask a local vehicle auctioneer their advice. They deal with “salvage” titles all the time and I’m betting they would have some solid advice for you.

It might be possible to game the system, too. Sell the car to a friend for $10. Have that friend get title (“salvage” or otherwise) and then, after a couple of weeks, sell the car back to you. This entails spending a couple hundred bucks in title fees and taxes, probably – but might be worth doing if it’s the only way to avoid junking the car.

My sympathies, Bin… keep us posted.

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. As to the problem, people buy salvage cars out of state all the time. They take it through their process to get the car titled in their home state. I suppose you surrendered the original title to the insurance company. The insurance company should have given you a signed title of some sort from either your state or the state they totaled the car in. With either of these documents you should be able to get your car titled and registered. I think your argument is with your insurance company. The insurance company needs to send you the title, be it a salvage title they obtained in one state or the other or your original signed back to you.

    • Ins. co.s can’t issue, brand, nor cancel titles…..only the god-like state can- the ins. co. just reports the info to the state- and that would be the state in which the car is titled when the accident occurred. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s as I said in my first post: Cost of repair exceeded whatever percentage OP’s state allows to qualify as ‘rebuildable’ because the car was worth so little.

      Wonder what stae the OP is in? Might at least be able to figger it out iffin we knew.

  2. Bin, sorry to hear about this. I totaled my Turbo Diesel that was like new inside and nearly new outside. They gave me what it was worth and no title, er, salvage title. I wouldn’t take it. I went to the local agency that I did, and still do, business with. They made me a deal that if I could fix it for what they’d pay me, they’d go along with it being titled again.

    I fixed it, much better than what it had been and since the agency was a block from the repair shop, I drove it over and said check it out. It was sitting there idling(smooth)with the a/c on and sporting a new paint job. I’d stripped it and added a black grill to a black pickup. It had new aftermarket polished rock climber wheels and larger tires. The entire staff came out and looked it over. They kept saying it looked like it was just off the showroom floor and one said it looked better than that. I was able to keep(with a little help from a friend in the HVAC bidness)the original 12 in the a/c so it would freeze you on the hottest day and with a 160 degree thermostat, never got over 180 with the heaviest load. They kept their word, got me a new title and I was pleased as punch. No Silverado badges, no Turbo Diesel on the hood nor 4X4 on the bed, just a gold bowtie in the middle of the black grill and a piece of polished aluminum on the endgate.

  3. vin swap the car with a clean title same model car that is privately owned but junk. Scrap the junk car and get 100-200 for recycling. Now you get the new clean title. I know i’m breaking alot of laws here but this is a common practice within the used car flipping industry. It’s called gray market cars. As long as you are doing this for yourself and not to rip people off i think its ok. Just dont tell anyone.

    • Trouble is, Moo-Moo, that’s a Federal ‘crime’…… They might not look too closely at an old cheap car…but if they do…. And considering that anything made in the last 25 years has VIN numbers everywhere….

      • If you never sell it no one will ever know. I know of a couple of dealerships that are suspected of doing this. Not having health insurance was a crime at one time as well.

        • Thing is, Moo; switched VINs are easy to spot- ‘specially if someone’s looking. You willing to risk imprisonment and losing everything you have for an old hoopty, while some stinking pig has a congratulatory steak dinner for ‘nabbing you” for a federal crime?

          Friend O’mine used to have a legally re-VINned car [State issued a new VIN for it- why exactly, I forget]- and he used to get extra scrutiny even for that, from ignorant cops who had no clue that the state even did that- to the point where he had to carry around a copy of the title to prove it. Point is, they do look…. (And it too was an older car, not worth a lot).

          NOT something ya want to mess with, unless one is feeling very lucky….or is willing to get tangled in a legal web. Be careful when ya give advice that seriously impact someone’s liberty….. at least warn them of the risks- they can decide whether it’s worth it or not.

    • Grey market cars are cars imported privately when new.

      VIN swapping is a deception a fraud against the person it is sold to eventually. Illegal or not, that’s wrong.

  4. Bin[ny],

    I’d talk to some guys in your area who are familiar with dealing with such issues. Junkyards, bodyshops, etc. I think you are getting bad info from someone- likely either the ins. co. or some stoopit clerk who works for the state.

    What state the car was damaged in should not matter one iota. If the car was titled in your state at the time, regardless of where the accident occurred, it is your state’s regs which determine whether or not the car is totaled, and how it is retitled.

    One problem may be that since the car was old and worth little, most states now have regs which say that if damage excedds a certain percentage of the car’s value (usually 75-90%) the car is then considered “non-rebuildable” or “parts only” and is not eligible to be retitled- not even as salvage- only as parts or scrap. [Don’t you just love the way other people get to make all of these decisions for you?!]

    If such is not an intentional way of getting more old cars off of the roads…it sure accomplishes that anyway- ‘cuz it doesn’t take much to exceed 75-90% of the value of a car that is only worth a grand or two. One dent or a relatively minor mechanical repair can do it- as you are seeing.

    But I’d check around with people in the business to be sure what you are really up against, and what you options may be, if any. If it is NOT as I said above, then it’s usually just a matter of having the car inspected- not for safety- but to ‘prove your innocence”- that you haven’t used stolen parts to repair it- [You’re presumed guilty until can prove your innocence- and must supply receipts for all parts used; if- in the case of body damage where one may use used parts, the receipts must even contain the VIN numbers of the vehicles they were taken off of! -Nazi bastards!]

    Welcome to the new America…errr…should I say the new Reich?

    One used to be able to “wash” a title by retitling in certain states- but most of those states have now tightened up their systems (Alabama used to be famous for washing titles!)- and even where you can still ‘wash’ a title by running it through another state or two…if you’re going to be re-titling the car in your state, and they’ve already labeled it as non-repairable, as soon as the VIN is put into their system, it will immediately be flagged, and you’ll be back to square one.

    Friend of mine bought a Jeep from a salvage auction in IL. Turns out, it had a washed title. It had originally been titled and totaled in NY. My friend lived in NY at the time. He goes to title the Jeep….and [LOUD BUZZER]. He had to threaten to sue the auction company, and then bring the Jeep all the way back to IL to get his $10K back. Thing is, if he had lived in any other state than the one in which the vehicle had been prviously titled, he would have gotten a title.

    They total your car for an oil pan….yet a new car or very expensive specialty car that is worth a lot, can be train-wrecked, and still be repairable and retitled, because their stupid laws are based on economic considerations rather than ‘safety’ or any other thing that might actually matter.

    I once saw a dude pay $23K for a practically new Town Car that liuterally looked like it had been hit by a train- the whole body was crushed. That car was going to be rebuilt and resold. Meanwhile, your car is considered ‘junk’ because of one mechanical issue…. Thanks, government! -Always ‘keeping us safe’!


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