What is required to legally operate a salvage title vehicle on California roads? California

Titling and Registering a Rebuilt Auto

If you plan on rebuilding a salvage title car and driving it again, fully registered and titled, you must keep titles from all the various cars used to make the new car.

Then you must:

  1. Fill out an Application for Title or Registration.
  2. Get the car inspected at a California DMV office, by appointment. This ensures that you came by all the car parts legally. Bring any titles or bill of sale forms from the auto transactions you have with you to prove ownership. The DMV charges a $50 fee for this inspection service.
  3. The DMV may send you to the CHP for an inspection. Bring your title. The CHP will give you an inspection certificate.
  4. Get a brakes and lights inspection from a repair shop certified by the state; check your yellow pages or ask your favorite shop if they’re authorized.
  5. For trucks or pick-ups weighing more than 6,000 pounds, get a weight certification through the CA Department of Agriculture.
  6. Get an emissions test.

Smog Test Exemptions

You don’t have to get a smog test if:

  • The car is from 1975 or older.
  • The vehicle title is in your name and will not need a smog test when you renew the registration.
  • It is a diesel-powered vehicle from before 1998, with a Gross Vehicle Weight rating (GVWR) of more than 14,000 lbs.  
  • It’s electric or hybrid.
  • It’s a motorcycle or trailer.
  • It’s natural gas powered with a GVW or more than 14,000 pounds.


Fees for title and registration vary by type and year of vehicle and even by the county where you live. The CA DMV Web site has a calculator to estimate your fees, but there’s no way to know before you go in and get the fees officially tallied.

Order a Vehicle History Report

When buying used cars, it’s important to get a vehicle history report, or VHR. The VHR provides you with the complete vehicle history. It tells you if the car was ever a salvage title and whether the vehicle was sold or acquired legally.

Visitor Comments

  • Posted by danielle on April 18th, 2010

    Whether your reclaimed vehicle was salvaged or junked, it will require inspections before you can legally drive it. The first inspection verifies that all the parts and components in the car were legally bought.

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