What is Title Washing?


While some buyers remember to ask a dealer about a vehicle’s repair history, they may not always ask the dealer to see the car’s title before buying the car. Depending on your state’s law, looking at the car’s title can tell you one of the most important things about the car you are about to buy: whether the car is salvaged. However, the laws in some states make it easy for unscrupulous dealers to hide this important fact by not requiring a title to indicate whether a car was previously salvaged or junked.

Asking About a Salvaged Car

In New York, a salvaged car is a car that has been severely damaged in one way or another, or declared a wreck. A salvaged car is also one that would require more than 75% of its pre-damage retail value in repairs. If a dealer is selling a salvaged car in New York, the dealer has to give you a title that tells you the car is a rebuilt salvaged vehicle, depending on when the title was issued. If the car title was issued before May, 1999, it may not be noted that the car is salvaged. Furthermore, in New York, salvaged cars are supposed to be inspected and determined to be safe before they can be sold to consumers. This inspection is supposed to protect consumers from buying a dangerous car.

Title Washing

In states where titles do not have to indicate a car is salvaged, some dealers can get around informing you about any previous serious damage to the car by doing something called “title washing”. Title washing occurs when a dealer buys a severely damaged car in one state, and after repairing it, resells it in a state where there is no requirement to note the previous damage on the car’s title. There is no federal law that unifies state titling laws. Cars with washed titles are able to sell for higher amounts than they would if the extent of their previous damage was noted on the title. But these cars are often dangerous and, if involved in an accident, may result in catastrophe for the driver.

To protect yourself from unscrupulous dealers, and avoid buying a severely damaged car that could be dangerous, there are some tips that can help. You should look at a report from a company such as CARFAX to see if the car was previously damaged or junked. In addition, you should test drive the car and pay attention to the interior of the car for signs of flooding or other such damage. Finally, you should have a mechanic you trust inspect the car thoroughly for frame damage and other signs that would tell you if the car is more damaged that represented. In some cases, simply looking at the bottom of the car can reveal damage.

If you buy a salvaged car from a dealer, and did not know that the car was salvaged before you bought the car, you may have a case against the dealer. You should consult an attorney to review the facts of your particular case, and tell you what remedies you have under your state’s laws.

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