Can You Make a Salvage Title Clean Again?

Today we’re going to talk about titles, specifically whether it’s possible to make a salvage title clean again. Have you heard rumors that a clean title could be hiding something? Has a seller ever told you a car’s title used to be salvage but now it’s clean? Even if the physical paper title says “clean” or appears to be clean, there could be more to the story.

Can You Make a Salvage Title Clean Again?

We’ve talked about this subject before on Title Gods. Yet every year, people call and tell us something like this:

“My friend owns a car dealership and he says you can make a salvage title clean again.”

Or worse:

“My car used to have a salvage title, but the dealership said they fixed that before I bought it – now it’s clean.”

As we say in the South, if you pull a person’s leg too hard it’s liable to come off.

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The Truth About Salvage Titles

Those statements might sound plausible, but they have a major flaw.

A salvage title is a form of title branding that goes into a vehicle’s title history. That title history is archived by the DMV and your state’s government. It’s unchangeable even if you say pretty please with sugar on top. So, is it possible to make a salvage title clean again? Can a salvage or rebuilt title become clean? Can a salvage title be changed to clean?

The short answer is no.

What About Title Fraud?

The long answer is yes, on the surface. Doing so is a felony and doesn’t erase the salvage history.

Let’s break that down.

Tampering with title branding is a crime

Falling under the umbrella of Auto Dealer Fraud Law, it’s illegal for a dealership or private party to do any of the following things when selling a motor vehicle:

·       Misrepresent the title status (title washing)

·       Lie about the vehicle’s mileage (odometer fraud)

·       Present a false or inaccurate title

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How a seller can hide these facts

As a consumer, it’s important to know that these crimes can happen in two ways. A non-disclosure is when the seller intentionally withholds information that would negatively affect the value of the vehicle, like its history as a fleet vehicle or a prior salvage history. Conversely, an affirmative misrepresentation is fancy lingo for a bold-faced lie. That’s when the seller advertises inaccurate details about the vehicle only to gloss over them when you arrive to buy the car.

The car’s title history will never change

The title history maintained by the DMV and state government is tied to a specific VIN number, so it won’t change even if someone produces an illegal title for that vehicle. But the physical paper title could appear to be clean while the title history says otherwise; this deception is far too common, but as a buyer you have ways to protect yourself.

Here’s a well-known example of these crimes in action.

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Texas Dealership Title Washing Scam

In 2013, one 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 advertised with 83,907 miles and no previous accidents, this Ram looked like the perfect buy at right around $26,000.

Mr. Grable flew to Houston to purchase the Ram. He quickly realized the dealer hadn’t mentioned the truck had bad tires, but they quickly agreed to deduct $900 from the truck’s price so Mr. Grable could buy a new set. The deal went through, Mr. Grable drove home to Ohio, and for three years he was a happy man with a nice Texas truck.

In 2016 he decided to upgrade, so he took the truck to a dealership in Ohio for a trade-in evaluation. The dealer ran a Carfax report which revealed that in 2010 – three years prior to Mr. Grable’s purchase – this truck had three reported owners, multiple reported accidents, and a reported 170,000+ miles on the odometer.

Two years of legal action would determine that the dealership bought the truck at auction with no title, then obtained an illegal title before selling the truck to Mr. Grable. Found guilty of odometer fraud and title washing, not to mention non-disclosures and affirmative misrepresentations, the dealer was ordered to pay $52,500 in damages and an additional $76,000 in legal fees. [source]

In short, it is possible to obtain an illegal title for a vehicle which could cover up a salvage title status on the surface – but the car’s title history would not change.

For more on illegal titles and the situation described here, read our article on title washing scams.

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How Do I Know for Sure?

Performing a vehicle history report or VIN check would have saved Mr. Grable a heap of hassle. It’s the single smartest thing you can do before buying a used car, and it’s the only way to be sure a deal is as good as it sounds.

Is a vehicle history report worth buying?

Licensing, registration, and taxes account for nearly 10% of your expenses when buying a new or used car. A surprise salvage history could cause a vehicle to lose up to 40% of its value; knowing about it beforehand could save you from making a bad purchase. With 50% of your investment hanging in the balance, spending a few dollars on a vehicle history report is a no-brainer.

Trust your instinct

You can always walk away, even if you’re standing in front of your dream car with cash in hand. Remember, it doesn’t matter how nice the seller’s story sounds if the evidence doesn’t add up. If you ever get a bad feeling about a vehicle for any reason, trust your instinct and walk away.

Title Gods

We offer a $10 VIN Check to help you make the best car buying decision possible. This check will reveal the title history including any previous salvage title status, the date that claim occurred, the state it happened in, and any other accidents on record along with many other helpful facts about the car.

If you have any questions about our VIN Check or car titles in general, please contact us and we’ll be glad to help.

This article is not legal advice.