How to Register a Salvage Retain Vehicle in California

Our car got totaled and we wanted to do a salvage retain (when you buy the salvaged car from the insurance).  The instructions on the California DMV’s website are convoluted at best.  They list many steps as a “you may need to”.  Three trips to the DMV later I finally got it figured out.  I spent a considerable time researching what was needed and found it worthy to outline for others to reference later.  While this process may be similar in other states, this is for California.  This is something that can’t be done in one day, the smog check takes time to populate in the CA DMV’s system. 

Step 1: Ensure the insurance company marks it as salvaged with the CA DMV’s electronic systems.  You can call the CA DMV, give them your information, and they will tell you if it is processed or not. 

CA DMV’s phone number: 800-777-0133

Step 2: Get a smog check and a brake and lamp inspection.  Brake and lamp inspection places are hard to find, they are usually co located at smog check shops.  You are going to have to call around to find one.  

Brake Inspection Sign
Lamp Inspection Sign

The brake and lamp inspection station should have this sign somewhere.  

California BAR Auto Shop Locator 
On the left hand side of the page, click brake and lamp to help narrow down the search.  

Step 3: Wait at least a day for the smog check to populate in the CA DMV’s system.  I went too early, and this held it up. While you wait fill out the following forms:

CA DMV form: REG 343 sections 1,2,3,4, and 9
CA DMV Form: REG 488C sections 1 and 3

DMV Form 343
Screenshot of DMV Form 488

Since you enter sensitive information into the forms and you would rather find them yourself and not follow the direct links above here is where they are found on the DMV's website.  The REG 343 is on the top of the page, you have to search for the REG 488C.  

Step 4: Show up to the DMV with:

  • Filled out REG 343
  • Filled out REG 488C
  • Vehicle title (pink slip)
  • Smog check paperwork
  • Brake and lamp inspection paperwork
  • Your Drivers License

The DMV will perform a “Verification of Vehicle” (CA DMV form 31) for you when you show up with all the above paperwork.  You may have to surrender your license plates and a new one will be issued, for a fee of course.