What Happens to the License Plates When a Car Is Totaled?

Anyone who’s been in an auto accident may ask, “What happens to the license plates when a car is totaled?” We’ve previously covered what to do with a totaled car. In this article, we’ll explain what happens with the licensed plates of a totaled car in California.

If your car is totaled, it means the cost of repairs (plus its salvage value) is equal to or exceeds the vehicle’s actual cash value. To be compensated by your insurance company, you must meet certain requirements, including turning over your license plate to the DMV.

The first step in notifying the DMV your car was totaled is to apply for a Salvage Certificate or a Nonrepairable Vehicle Certificate. Submitting the form is an important part of your claim. You then have 10 days to surrender the vehicle’s license plates. And you must also pay a Salvage Certificate fee.

Your Totaled Car’s Licensed Plates and Your Insurance Settlement

If you fail to submit your application in time, you may not receive an insurance settlement. There are lots of costs to consider. Therefore, you don’t want to make any mistakes. The insurance company will pay for the vehicle’s salvage value and may compensate you for the cost of licenses, transfers, and taxes.

Insurance companies use many details to determine the value of a settlement. You should receive an amount comparable to the value of similar vehicles in a similar condition to yours. The car’s make, model, year, and mileage may also affect your insurance settlement. Vehicle features and your location can impact the settlement value as well.

Do I Have Other Options?

Perhaps receiving an insurance settlement check isn’t your top priority. Then you may be able to keep the plate and transfer it to a new car. The totaled vehicle belongs to the insurance company. They decide to sell the wreck to a salvage yard or scrap it for spare parts. You’re compensated through this sale, which can help you purchase a new car, so there aren’t many options if you want a check. You’ll get a new license plate when you register the new vehicle with the DMV.

How Do I Surrender My License Plates?

You have a few options for surrendering a totaled car’s license plates. If your DMV is close by, you can walk in and hand your plates to a clerk. Mailing the license plates to the DMV is also an option, or you can deliver them to a local police station.

What If I Decide to Keep a Totaled Car?

Even if you decide to keep the car, you must submit an Application for Salvage Certificate or Nonrepairable Vehicle Certificate and surrender the vehicle’s license plates. Keeping a totaled car may be an option if you own it outright. If you owe on a car loan or lease the vehicle, the lender or dealer will have a say in your decision. 

Meanwhile, your insurance company makes a settlement offer based on the highest salvage bid. It will deduct this bid from the amount, allowing you to buy the vehicle back. But it won’t cover the cost of repairing a totaled vehicle.

What If the Insurance Settlement Is Less Than What My Car Is Worth?

Insurance companies far too often provide lowball offers. As an individual, it can be difficult to get an insurer to respond, let alone make a fair offer. Or, the company or adjuster may make an error when evaluating your car. A skilled personal injury lawyer can help file your claim and work with the insurance company to fight for maximum compensation. Since they’re on your side, they can be aggressive and work towards a better outcome.

Contact The Law Offices of Jacob Emrani

If you have additional questions about what happens to the license plates when a car is totaled, our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys can help. Our team can also fight for maximum compensation based on the damage to your vehicle, whether anyone was injured, and if the accident had a financial impact. Call (888) 952-2952 for a free consultation.

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southern california


714 W. Olympic Blvd.
Suite 300
Los Angeles, CA 90015


Our Main Location

Los Angeles

serving southern california


714 W. Olympic Blvd.
Suite 300
Los Angeles, CA 90015


(888) 508-5085