How to Tell if a Car Has a Clean or Salvage Title

Selling junk cars requires knowledge about all of the paperwork, including the car title, one of the most important documents in car ownership.

A car title is a legal document that proves you own a vehicle. In some states it is referred to as a pink slip (not to be confused with the things used when people get fired from their job). When you purchase a car, you get the title from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. When you sell a junk car, you sign the title and transfer it to a junk car buyer. Titles are issued for all kinds of vehicles, including trucks, RVs, motorcycles and motorized boats.

The car title documents the current and past owners of a vehicle. The most up-to-date title will have the current owner’s information, the vehicle’s VIN, lien information, and more. 

There are multiple types of titles, each one telling you something about the car. There are clean, salvage, rebuilt, bonded, and even flood water damage indicators on titles. Each state has different procedures and laws regarding titles on registered cars. If you are buying a car online, you need to know how to tell if a title is clean or salvage. 

Different kinds of car titles

What is a Clean Title? 

A clean title means the vehicle is in legal condition to drive and has never been totaled. It simply means the car is owned by the person whose name is on the document without any restrictions such as salvage or rebuilt. 

What is a Salvage Title? 

A vehicle receives a salvaged title if it has suffered damage. Some states have the title specify if it was flood damage, fire damage, or another reason why it is now a salvaged vehicle. It receives this status most of the time if it takes on sixty percent damage of the car’s value. A car with a salvaged title can become legal to drive on the road again, after undergoing proper repair and inspection. In this case, it'll receive a “rebuilt” or “reconstructed” title. However, this usually requires a bigger investment than the vehicle is worth.

Telling the Difference Between Clean or Salvage Title

There are a few ways to tell if the title of a car is clean or a salvage title. Here are three ways to tell if a title is clean or salvage. 

1. Look at the title for a stamp or watermark

Each state has different methods for indicating if a title is a salvage. You can look at the actual title and find either stamp that says “salvaged” or some sort of watermark that indicates it is a salvaged vehicle.

2. Check with the DMV or Tag Agency

The Department of Motor Vehicles or your town’s tag agency should be able to give you the information about the car you are looking at buying. All you need is the vehicle identification number, and they can pull up the history and records of that car. 

3. Use an online VIN Checker

There are many different resources online that can run a vehicle’s VIN and give you information about it. You can use these websites to find out things such as a history of accidents, current recalls, or if the title is salvaged or rebuilt. 

Owning a Car With a Salvage Title

If your car receives a salvaged title, it is no longer legal to drive on the road and is a type of junk car. You can regain legal status by repairing the vehicle and passing an inspection approved by the state. However, this often costs much more money than the vehicle is worth, and it may be better to sell your car or scrap it for some cash. You can use Junk Car Medics for the easiest way to sell your salvaged car!