When to Drive Your Salvage Car

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One of the joys of rebuilding or restoring a salvage car is finally getting to drive it on the open road. (It’s our favorite part of the entire process.) But unfortunately, you can’t just drive off the body shop lot into the sunset and enjoy your newly rebuilt vehicle. Instead, you have to get it properly inspected, change the title and (as with all cars) get it insured.  

This is probably the least fun part of working on a salvage vehicle, but don’t worry—as part of our You Bought a Salvage Car! Now What? series, we’re taking you through the process of getting your salvage vehicle on the road and figuring out this whole “street legal” thing. Unfortunately, finishing your work on a fixer-upper salvage car doesn’t mean you can drive it legally. You’ll still need that rebuilt title. 

What is Street Legal? 

If this is your first salvage car, or you’re just used to driving your vehicles on private property, the term “street legal” may be a little confusing at first. Essentially, in order to drive a car on public roads, it needs to meet some standardized criteria. (This is why we don’t see vehicles like golf carts on the highway.) 

Since different states and countries have different laws, we’re going to look at some general guidelines for getting your salvage car on the road in the U.S. (If you’re not in the U.S., you can check out these resources for how to go about driving your salvage car in Canada and Europe. If you’re located elsewhere, your specific government websites should be able to assist you.) Our first step is identifying the specific state laws for a vehicle on public road in your area and making sure your build conforms to the law.  

Assessing Your Build   

In order to make sure your car will be suitable to drive, you need some general parts:  

  • Brakes 
  • Bumpers 
  • Engine hood 
  • Horn 
  • License plates 
  • Lights 
  • Mirrors 
  • Reflectors 
  • Seat belts 
  • Steering wheel 
  • Tires 
  • Windshield 
  • Windshield wipers 

These individual pieces make up important safety requirements that either protect you or warn other drivers. Unfortunately, though, individual states tend to get technical about the placement of these devices.  

For instance, you can’t have your headlights too low or too high on your vehicle (and some states even limit the range of colors you can use for your headlights). Likewise, in some states you can’t have any window tinting on the front windshield. In other states you can, but only to a certain degree.  

Those in the U.S. can check the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to see the standards for manufacturers. This will be particularly useful if you’re creating a custom build using auto parts from multiple salvage vehicles.  

Getting Your Car Inspected and Changing the Title 

Once you’ve determined that your car meets the requirements for driving on public roads, you’ll have to get it properly inspected and tested. This will ensure that your vehicle meets the proper requirements for public roads (including emission standards). After the inspection is complete, you’ll be able to have the salvage title changed to a rebuilt title.  

In order to proceed with this, your salvage vehicle will have to pass a salvage vehicle inspection. Your local Department of Motor Vehicles will have the proper paperwork to fill out. But be prepared—you won’t be able to drive to get this inspection performed so you’ll have to get your car transported there.  

Once your car passes the salvage inspection and you have a changed title, you can drive it like a typical car. Unfortunately, though, that task comes with one more step: insurance.  

Getting Insurance 

It’s widely assumed that getting insurance on a rebuilt vehicle is impossible, but that’s not true at all. Granted, insurance companies may not extend full coverage, but if you shop around you can find coverage that works for your budget and your car. It’s a buyer’s market if you know what you’re looking for!  

Recently got a rebuilt title? Maybe it’s time to start your next project. Find your next car salvage car at Copart.com.  

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