Can I avoid having a salvage title (California)?
February 3, 2014 12:40 PM   Subscribe

My Vanagon was hit, and the other person's insurance company wrote it off as a total loss. We settled, and I retained possession of the vehicle. It's fixed and good to go--except maybe the whole salvage title thing.

It needed three new wheels, two tires, and the rack and pinion replaced. I'm back on the road for less than $500, with some meaningless cosmetic damage that I doesn't need to be fixed.

I don't disagree with any part of the process--their estimate to fully restore it to the state before the crash, their comp process that led to determining the value of my van, and the settlement check all seem relatively on-target. But is there any way to contest or alter the "salvage" designation by the insurance?

It seems fundamentally inaccurate, given that the mechanical damage was so slight. Even their estimate of damage and costs consisted almost entirely of body work to get rid of some dents on the side and to replace a bumper that still functionally works as a bumper, but lost a plastic end cap.

I'm going to assume that this isn't the hill to die on (please make me pleasantly surprised!), so part II of the question: what do I do now that it's OK to drive again? I believe these are the steps here to get the salvage title, after which I need to follow these steps to get it back on the road again. Is that about right? Any comments on what the process is like that might be helpful?
posted by jsturgill to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can actually go from a Salvage title to a Revived Salvage Title, here is the information on that.

At this point it's at LEAST 22 years old, and I can't even find a value for it. If you have no intention of selling it, what difference does it make?

As long as you can still legally drive it, that's all that matters.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:46 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not exactly a direct answer, but check out this thread on the Blue about old VWs
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:49 PM on February 3, 2014

Ruthless Bunny raises a relevant point. Are you planning on selling the car at some point? If not, the salvage title isn't important. I used to drive a van with a salvage title (crashed and semi-repaired, eventually sold it for $200 just to get it off my hands) and it didn't affect my insurance or anything, as far as I remember. The salvage title is just there, I think, to tell potential buyers "this car has been in a bad wreck". So if your plan is to just keep driving the van until it eventually dies beyond repair, I just wouldn't worry about it.
posted by Scientist at 12:50 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's likely that eventually, I'll want to sell it. The price for clean-titled, running Vanagons runs from $4K to $10K IRL, which is backed up by NADA.

I was going to put money into this one over time, but having a salvage title makes that a losing proposition if I ever need to sell it. If I can keep the title clean, it will continue to be worthwhile.

I'm debating now whether to sell it and use that money, with the settlement, to purchase a newer model. 1986 on has upgraded cooling and so on.
posted by jsturgill at 12:53 PM on February 3, 2014

Ruthless Bunny: "You can actually go from a Salvage title to a Revived Salvage Title, here is the information on that. "

I don't think that is accurate, and that site is NOT the California DMV. I've found inaccuracies there before so I'm not surprised either. They are confusing the terms, and are merely talking about a vehicle with a salvage title getting reregistered. It will always have the word "salvage" across the top of the title.

I have a vehicle with a salvage title and have looked into this several times over the years.
The good news is buyers who know how this silly system works and actually want your older vehicle will know that doing some homework can prove that the vehicle is fine. Somewhat common issue in the world of classic cars due to cost to repair>greater than value.
posted by Big_B at 12:54 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

It won't help you now, but for the future, the way to avoid a salvage title is to settle for less than the value of the damaged vehicle.

For example, suppose the insurance company determines the original value of the damaged vehicle to have been $4000, the scrap value of the vehicle at $500, and estimates the cost of repairs to be $6000. Because the cost to repair exceeds the value of the car they'll offer you the $4000 for your car, take possession of the car, and file for a salvage certificate (alternatively they'll often let you, if you so desire, keep the vehicle if you deduct the scrap value from the settlement).

However, strange as it might sound, you can negotiate the settlement downward. You can tell the insurance company that you will settle for $3400, a bit less than the original value minus the scrap value. If they accept your terms, the settlement is no longer a total loss and no salvage certificate has to be written (of course you end up with $3400 instead of $4000). This generally only makes sense for vehicles that have some "collector" value.
posted by RichardP at 1:31 PM on February 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks RichardP. That's good to know.
posted by jsturgill at 2:14 PM on February 3, 2014

I have a piece of advice too - We were selling the car that I mentioned earlier at a very low price due to financial hardship, and a flyer in the window had a price listed. The flyer was still in the window when the estimator looked at the car when it was at the bodyshop, and the insurance company said that was the value, regardless of blue book or any comparisons. So get rid of any of that if you get into a wreck in your vehicle.
posted by Big_B at 3:20 PM on February 3, 2014

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