In the State of Texas, vehicle registrations are administered by the Texas Department of Transportation. There are websites out there that are going to direct you to the Department of Public Safety for information on used car salvage titles in Texas. Don't be lead astray because you won't find the answers there.
In almost all cases across the country, salvage title is given to any vehicle that has sustained damage worth 75% or more of its value. Requirements are going to vary by state. In Florida, a car has to be damaged to 80% of its value before the accident. Vehicles in Minnesota are considered salvaged when they are declared "repairable total loss" by an insurance company, were worth at least $5,000 before the damage or are less than six years old.
Things are not as well defined in Texas. There is no set percentage of damage before a vehicle can receive a salvage title. In effect, a vehicle is considered salvage when repair costs, not including repainting, exceeds the vehicle's value at the moment before the damage. What this all means is the older your car, the more likely it can be considered salvage in the event of an accident.
By the way, it's important in Texas to closely check a title's history before purchasing a used car there. Under Texas law, mechanics can put a lien on a car that has been left with them for more than 30 days with unpaid repairs.
After owner notification, the car can be disposed of at public sale and a new title will be issued. It's a clean title with no previous record of liens or past problems. In one 2010 criminal case, unscrupulous businessmen were accused of getting false mechanic's liens on vehicles with salvage titles so new, clean titles could be obtained.
When purchasing a used vehicle in Texas with a new title but high mileage take the extra step of buying a CarFax or AutoCheck report to get a better sense of the vehicle's history. It will give you peace of mind and help determine if the vehicle may have a checkered past.
Here's the exact language as provided by the Texas Department of Transportation (bold emphasis from the original document):
SALVAGE MOTOR VEHICLE: A "salvage motor vehicle" is a motor vehicle that:
- has damage to or is missing a major component part to the extent that the cost of repairs, including parts and labor other than the cost of materials and labor for repainting the motor vehicle and excluding sales tax on the total cost of repairs, exceeds the actual cash value of the motor vehicle immediately before the damage; or
- is damaged and that comes into this state under an out-of-state salvage motor vehicle certificate of title or similar out-of-state ownership document that states on its face "accident damage," "flood damage," "inoperable," "rebuildable," "salvageable," or similar notation.
A salvage motor vehicle does not include an out-of-state motor vehicle with a "rebuilt," "prior salvage," "salvaged," or similar notation, a nonrepairable motor vehicle, or a motor vehicle for which an insurance company has paid a claim for the cost of repairing hail damage, or theft, unless the motor vehicle was damaged during the theft and before recovery to the extent that the cost of repair exceeds the actual cash value of the motor vehicle immediately before the damage.
There's another class of vehicle, too, in Texas. It's the nonrepairable motor vehicle that's referred to above. There's really no way to hide this kind of vehicle from its title because it's basically a used car that is being sold for its parts or scrap metal.
Here's the exact language as provided by the Texas Department of Transportation (bold emphases from the original document):
NONREPAIRABLE MOTOR VEHICLE: A "nonrepairable motor vehicle" is a motor vehicle that:
- is damaged, wrecked, or burned to the extent that the only residual value of the vehicle is as a source of parts or scrap metal; or
- comes into this state under a title or other ownership document that indicates that the vehicle is nonrepairable, junked, or for parts or dismantling only.
A vehicle for which a Nonrepairable Vehicle Title is issued on or after September 1, 2003, may not be rebuilt, retitled, or operated on the public highways.
Something Texas does that I like is maintain a database of flood damaged vehicles in the state. To check out other states, you'll probably have to rely on a commercial website like CarFax.com. The free federal government website isn't as reliable as those sites yet.
By the way, Texas has some good advice:
Flood Damage Warning Signs
- Mud, grit, rust or mold under the dashboard
- Mud and grit in engine compartments such as the alternator, starter motor and power steering pump crevices
- Rust and flaking on the vehicle's undercarriage
- Musty and/or recently shampooed carpet
- Vehicle history reveals it has been titled several times over a short period
- Vehicles for sale on street corners (TxDOT verifies dealer licenses at (800) 687-7846)
- Vehicle is in an insurance company's name or has a flood title, salvage title or rebuilt title
- Vehicle title is unavailable
- Vehicle titled or registered in a flood-affected area