Title washing is more common than theft, and thousands of people have fallen victim to this scam without even realizing it. How do you protect yourself from buying a car with a washed title? The first step is understanding what title washing is.
What is Title Washing?
In short, it’s obtaining an illegal title which hides some details about a vehicle’s past.
Title washing can range from simply moving a salvage vehicle to another state to acquiring false documents from a shady title company.
States like Colorado require accident damage to reach 100% of a vehicle’s value before branding a salvage title, while 22 states leave the determination of a total loss up to the insurance companies. Titling a wrecked car in these states could allow someone to turn what would normally be a salvage title into a clean one.
Another common way that title washing occurs is when a title is transferred to a state that doesn’t brand titles the same way. For example, a car that’s experienced flood damage in Texas could be moved to a state that doesn’t account for flood damage, and that mark would be removed from the title in the process.
Loopholes like these have existed for quite some time, leading to the unfortunate epidemic of title washing that we see today. If a person doesn’t do sufficient research into the VIN, title status, and title history of a car they plan to buy, they leave themselves vulnerable to title washing. It’s all too easy to unknowingly purchase a vehicle that hides a sinister past.
The Case of Garrett Grable
In 2013, Mr. Garrett Grable of Painesville, Ohio found a 2007 Dodge Ram on the website of a car dealership located in Houston, Texas. A one-owner truck with 83,907 miles and no previous accidents, this Ram looked like the perfect buy. Mr. Grable called the dealer and arranged for it to be ready when his flight landed.
When he arrived in Houston, he found the Ram’s tires were bad. “No problem,” said the dealer: they comped him $900 and Mr. Grable drove home to Ohio on brand-new rubber.
It wasn’t until 2016, when he took the Ram to his local Ohio dealership for a trade-in evaluation, that he learned the truth about his truck. A Carfax report revealed that in 2010 his beloved Dodge Ram had already been through three previous owners, multiple accidents, and had covered over 170,000 miles.
After nearly two years of legal action, it was determined that the dealership committed odometer tampering and title washing after buying the truck at auction without a title. They obtained an illegal title and sold the truck to Mr. Grable as such. The penalty for this deception? Legal fees of $76,000 and $52,500 in damages.
Why Would Someone Do This?
To make money, of course.
The unfortunate truth is that most people don’t investigate a vehicle’s history before buying it. Scam artists know this, and they’re willing to take big risks to make a few bucks. We’ve all heard stories of people buying cars that “ran when parked” only to find out there was a valid (and often expensive) reason it was taken off the road, yet even more severe scams are far too common.
When it comes to selling cars, title washing is the ultimate deception.
What Could Title Washing Hide?
While title washing could hide all sorts of terrible things, it’s most commonly associated with natural disasters like floods and hurricanes. You may have heard about flood-damaged vehicles being sneakily sold with that damage covered up, and those stories are very true. Flood damage is one of the most popular issues covered up by title washing.
Other things title washing might hide:
· Salvage history
· Theft history
· Actual mileage
· Number of previous owners
How Common is Title Washing?
National statistics state that 1 in every ~325 used cars has experienced title washing. With the average age of used passenger cars increasing, there are likely over 1 million cars with washed titles on American roads today. They’re most common in states whose laws are structured in a way that’s conducive to title washing.
Where most states have a title washing average of 1 in every 400 to 500 cars, the worst states have a far higher incidence. IHS Automotive data shows that in 2014 the worst states for title washing included Kansas (1 in ~211 vehicles), Oregon (1 in ~152), South Dakota (1 in ~141), and Virginia (1 in ~107). The worst state was Mississippi, where 1 in every 44.6 cars was the victim of a washed title.
That means every grocery store parking lot in Mississippi has about a 100% chance of containing a title washed car. The threat is real, people.
Can I Title a Washed Car?
Yes! And that’s why it’s such a big problem.
Your local DMV office probably isn’t in the business of doing exhaustive title history checks. Titles can be washed or even forged to the point where the DMV won’t even notice – that means it’s up to you to defend yourself.
So What Can I Do About It?
If the Garrett Grable case taught us anything, it’s that victims can recover damages and offenders can be brought to justice. Federal law prohibits odometer tampering and title washing is treated as a federal crime, so if you encounter a scammer don’t hesitate to call it in.
Obtain a Carfax report or a title history on any vehicle you purchase, no matter how good it looks on paper or how convincing the seller’s story may be.
Licensing, registration, and taxes account for nearly 10% of the expenses you’ll face when buying a new or used car. Add to that the potential value depreciation which could result form a washed title, and it’s a no-brainer to spend $10 or $20 on a vehicle history report to avoid overpaying for a vehicle with a washed title.
Title Gods Can Help
Title Gods specializes in title recovery and replacing lost titles. Our vehicle history report will reveal the truth about any car you have your eye on for as little as $9.77. Buy with confidence: get a VIN check before you buy your next car.