Florida Auto Salvage Title Laws

Used Car Salvage and Rebuilt Titles in Florida

By Keith Griffin

man pushing car in flood
 Brownsville, TX, July 24, 2008 — A resident pushes his stalled car through a flooded street. Hurricane Dolly made landfall on South Padre island with 120 mph winds.Jacinta Quesada/FEMA/Wikimedia Commons

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has information on salvage title laws that can be a little intimidating if you’re not familiar with the language. So, we slogged through the laws to help you understand Florida automobile salvage title laws.

When a Vehicle Is a Total Loss

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles says a vehicle is a total loss when:

  • an insurance company pays the vehicle owner to replace the wrecked or damaged vehicle with one of like kind and quality
  • an insurance company pays the owner upon the theft of the motor vehicle
  • an uninsured motor vehicle is wrecked or damaged and the cost, at the time of loss, of repairing or rebuilding the vehicle is 80 percent or more of the cost to the owner of replacing the wrecked or damaged motor vehicle with one of like kind and quality.

The last definition leaves a lot of room for latitude. A vehicle of like kind and quality could vary by thousands of dollars in value. That means a vehicle could have been damaged 75% of its value but not considered salvage. 80% seems like a high threshold to meet, which means you should be extra cautious when purchasing a used car from Florida.

This next definition sends klaxon bells ringing:

A motor vehicle shall not be considered a “total loss” if the insurance company and owner of a motor vehicle agrees to repair, rather than to replace, the motor vehicle. However, if the actual cost to repair the motor vehicle to the insurance company exceeds 100 percent of the cost of replacing the wrecked or damaged motor vehicle with one of like kind and quality, the owner shall forward to the department, within 72 hours after the agreement, a request to brand the certificate of title with the words “Total Loss Vehicle.” Such a brand shall become a part of the vehicle’s title history.

Don’t buy a used car in Florida that is branded this way with one exception. One might consider purchasing a collector car that has a title branded this way. Individual parts on this kind of used car could easily exceed the overall value of the collector car. Just ask anybody who has ever worked on restoring a classic. The parts and labor typically well exceed the value of the collector car on the open market.

This law doesn’t apply to used vehicles that are worth less than $1500 before the damage or when a stolen vehicle is recovered in good condition and can be resold without extensive repairs to the frame or engine.

How to Handle a Salvaged Vehicle in Florida

  • Within 72 hours of a vehicle becoming salvage, the owner has to forward the vehicle’s title to the motor vehicle department for processing.
  • But if an insurance company pays off on the vehicle as a total loss, send the title to the insurance company. The company then has 72 hours to send it to the motor vehicle department for processing.

There’s an interesting twist to the Florida law. You can’t just dispose of the vehicle. You have to prove it is a total loss. You have to obtain a salvage certificate or title or certificate of destruction. You have to provide the department with an estimate of the costs of repairing the physical and mechanical damage suffered by the vehicle for which a salvage certificate of title or certificate of destruction is sought. Only after getting a certificate of destruction can the vehicle be dismantled or destroyed.

Title Verification

The state of Florida has a step that should protect you from inadvertently buying a salvage title used car from another state. Each vehicle identification number (VIN) has to be verified before a motor vehicle from another state can be titled or registered in Florida. It has to be proven that the vehicle is the same as the one claimed in the proof of ownership. That makes it more difficult to wash titles.

According to Florida law, the VIN must be physically inspected by one of the following:

  • A law enforcement officer from any state.
  • A licensed Florida or out of state motor vehicle dealer.
  • A county tax collector employee or Division of Motor Vehicle Compliance Examiner.
  • A Provost Marshal or commissioned officer in active military service, with a rank of 2nd lieutenant or higher.

Salvage Title Application

 The Salvage Title Application has more information on determining how a vehicle qualifies.