Clean vs. Salvage vs. Rebuilt Title & How to Check

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Edgar Moulton.


Edgar Moulton. Car Expert

When you're selling a car, the buyer usually asks if it has a "clean title". You would probably say yes, but what happens when upon closer inspection, he finds that your car has a Salvage Title? And what does a clean title mean? What does a salvage title look like? What if you have a rebuilt title?

Keep reading to find out.

What is Title in General?

The car title or certificate of title is a legal document that identifies a person or company as the legitimate vehicle owner. In the United States, the Secretary of State or the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) where the car was acquired often issues vehicle titles.

The granting of car titles in the US is handled differently in each state. The vehicular title laws of one state may not always apply to another state. But one thing is common — you can't legally sell your car if it does not have a title.

Next, we will discuss the 3 different types of car titles.

What Does a Clean Title Mean?

A clean title is the default one, provided to all cars when they leave the showroom after a sale. When a vehicle has a clean title, it means that it has never been in a significant crash, flooded, or required extensive repairs.

It could also imply that the vehicle was not a fleet or rental. Cars utilized by car rental firms, taxicab companies, and police departments generally have the title "Fleet Vehicle". This does not necessarily imply a poor history; it simply indicates that it was commercially owned transport. However, it ultimately means that it is not a clean title.

What is a Salvage Title?

The salvage notion under the brand section will be on the certificate of title. This sign means that the vehicle was seriously damaged and was declared a total loss by the insurance company. 

A total loss happens when the expected cost of repairs exceeds the car's actual cash value. Here’s an online total loss car value calculator for your reference.

However, a total loss does not always mean you shouldn’t attempt to repair your car, just first check with a mechanic for the full cost (hint, it's going to be a hefty sum). Note that the transport cannot be insured or driven while it still has a salvage title.  

Since you cannot use cars with salvage titles on public roads, it is, in fact, a garage space hog. If you choose to repair it, you will be dealing with the DMV or the state's assigned group for processing vehicle titles. If the car passes the inspection, they will give it a "rebuilt title," but it is worth noting that totaled vehicles will have difficulty getting a rebuilt title in most cases.

What is a Rebuilt Title?

A rebuilt title, also known as a reconditioned or restored title, is a clear sign that a totaled car with a salvage title was repaired and passed a state safety inspection. The state will issue a new car title with a rebuilt brand or tag when this happens. If you are the owner of a rebuilt car, you can now drive it around. You can even have it insured, but the process will be more complicated than for vehicles with a clean title.

Also, such transport will automatically have less value compared to one with a clean title, even if damage was completely repaired. If you’re selling, you can expect rebuilt cars to have 20% to 40% less value compared to “clean” ones. 

H3 - Clean vs. Salvage vs. Rebuilt Title

As a quick reference, here’s a simple clean title vs. salvage title vs. rebuilt title comparison table showing the difference between each.

Type of Car Title

Can it be driven?

Can it be insured?

Effect on resale value

Clean Title



Best resale value.

Salvage Title



Considered as a junk car, this significantly lessens the resale value.

Rebuilt Title



Has about 20% to 40% less value compared to similar cars with clean titles.

How to Check Whether Your Car Title is Clean, Salvage, or Rebuilt

If you're inquiring about a car for sale, most of the time, the owners should be forthcoming with the truthful history of their vehicles. No? Do you disagree? Well, then, you better do some DIY investigation to know if the car you are about to buy has a clean, salvage, or rebuilt title.

1. The simplest way is to look at the car title and check if it has any tags or marks. Typically, the word "salvaged" stamp is on the car title. Usually, it's in bright red ink, so you can't miss it. However, each state defines a salvage title differently, so it is best to check how your state tags salvage titles.

Most states require rebuilt cars with rebuilt titles to have a sticker or label indicating that it is restored. Once tagged, it is illegal to remove this sticker or label. Also, you can find the word "rebuilt" stamped on the car title.

2. Get the car's vehicle identification number or VIN — the unique identifier for that vehicle. No two vehicles have the exact VIN, so it's sort of a car's fingerprint. A VIN is made up of 17 characters composed of numerals and capital letters. 

Do you need help locating your vehicle's VIN? You can find it on the front of the dashboard on the driver's side of most passenger cars. Looking through the windshield outside the vehicle is the best way to see it. The VIN can also be seen on the driver's side door pillar.

Once you get the VIN, access any of these websites to get a free VIN check — National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB),, and You’ll just input the VIN and find a car’s type of title. As a bonus, you can even see if there was an insurance claim or whether the car loan was paid off.

You can also take the car's VIN to your local DMV, and they should be able to pull the car’s history and type of title.

Consider Selling Your Car to Junkcarsus

If your car is in bad condition after an accident, chances are it will be tagged as a salvage. Doing a rebuild on the auto will cost more money and headaches than what it’s worth. Instead of letting your salvaged car stay in the garage and waste away in value, why not sell it to a trustworthy junk car buyer like Junkcarsus.

We buy salvage cars and offer the best price for all types of vehicles in any condition. We even put in free towing and help with documentation if you lost the car title.

Give us a call at (855) 547-1550, and our friendly car experts will gladly answer all your inquiries. We can also provide a quotation, and if you agree, we can do same-day pick-up, so you’ll get your cash ASAP.


How to check if a car is a salvage?

You can first check the actual car title to see if it has the word "salvage" stamped on it. It's usually in red ink, so you will spot it immediately. Additionally, you can get the car's VIN and double-check with the DMV that covers the car's registration. There are also online sites that can verify the status of vehicles using the VIN.

What does a rebuilt title mean?

A rebuilt title indicates that a previously classified vehicle as a salvage has been entirely repaired and is now roadworthy. It will inform any buyer about the vehicle's previous repair history. The car must pass a battery of tests to verify it is safe to drive before receiving a rebuilt title.

What does a salvage title mean?

A salvage title is given to cars identified as a "total loss" by an insurance company or the state. Total loss is a considerably damaged car, the cost of repairing which exceeds its actual monetary value. The amount of damage required for a vehicle to be declared a total loss is usually between 60% and 90% of the car's worth. Transports with salvage titles are not permitted on public roads and are not insured.

What does a clean title mean?

A clean title indicates that the car is in legal driving condition and has never been totaled. It suggests that the vehicle belongs to the person whose name appears on the document, with no conditions or branding such as salvage or rebuilding. This will mean the title is "clean" of any tags, markings, or branding to indicate major damages and/or repairs.

Edgar Moulton.


Edgar Moulton. Car Expert

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