When To Drive Your Salvage Car

One of the joys of rebuilding or restoring a salvage car is finally driving it on the road. (It is our favorite part of the whole process). But unfortunately, you can’t just walk out of the auto body shop parking lot at sunset and enjoy your newly rebuilt vehicle. Instead, you need to properly inspect it, change the title, and (as with all cars) secure it. 

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 series! Now what? , we will take you through the process of putting your salvage vehicle on the road and discovering this whole ”   Street Legal Process .” Unfortunately, finishing your job on a salvage car doesn’t mean you can legally drive it. You will still need that rebuild title.  

What is Legally on the Street?

If this is your first salvage car, or you are just used to driving your vehicles on private property, the term “street legal” can be a bit confusing at first. Essentially, to drive a car on public roads, you have to meet some standardized criteria. (This is why we don’t see vehicles like golf carts on the road.) 

Since different states and countries have different laws, let’s look at some general guidelines for taking your salvage car on the road in the US (If you are not in the US, you can check out these resources to learn how to drive your salvage car in Canada and Europe. If you are located elsewhere, your government-specific web pages should be able to help you.) Our first step is to identify the specific state laws for a vehicle on public roads in your area and make sure your construction conforms to the law

Evaluating Your Construction

To make sure your car is suitable for driving, you need a few general parts: 

  • Brakes 
  • Bumper 
  • Engine cover 
  • Horn 
  • License plates 
  • Lights 
  • Mirrors 
  • Reflectors 
  • Seat belt 
  • Steering wheel 
  • Tires 
  • Windshield 
  • Wiper washer 

These individual parts are important safety requirements that protect you or warn other drivers. However, unfortunately, individual states tend to be technical about the location of these devices. 

For example, 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). Similarly, in some states, you may not have any tinted windows in your front windshield. In other states, it can, but only up to a point. 

Those in the US can refer to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations for manufacturers’ standards. This will be particularly useful if you are creating a custom build using auto parts from multiple salvage vehicles.  

Inspect  or  Auto  and  Change the  TITLE

Once you have determined that your car meets the requirements to be driven on public roads, you will need to properly inspect and test it. This will ensure that your vehicle meets the proper requirements for public roads (including emission standards ). After the inspection is complete, you will be able to change the salvage title to a rebuilt title. 

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 documentation to complete. But be prepared, you will not be able to drive to perform this inspection, so you will have to transport your car there. 

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


It is widely assumed that obtaining insurance on a rebuilt vehicle is impossible, but that is not true at all. Insurance companies may not extend full coverage, but digging deeper 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!