When a Clean Title Isn't Really "Clean"
When a vehicle is so heavily damaged that it cannot be repaired, it's Texas title will receive a non-repairable brand letting future owners know the extent of the damage. However, in this blog post, inspired by a dealer's question, we detail instances when the title might NOT reveal such damage and what dealers can do to protect themselves from accidentally buying one of these vehicles.
Dealer Question: If a car has a Texas title with a non-repairable brand, can someone register the car with a “clean” title in another state?
Answer: No. However, if another state does not participate in the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), then the other state may not know about the Texas title brand.
A non-repairable title is a title brand that identifies vehicles that are damaged, wrecked, or burned to the extent that they are only valuable for parts or scrap metal; or vehicles that come into Texas under another state's non-repairable, junked, or parts-only title.
Title washing is the intentional removal of a value-limiting brand from a title. Most often this is attempted by moving vehicles between jurisdictions. One scheme is to take a non-repairable vehicle out of Texas and attempt to obtain a title through another jurisdiction's alternative title process (such as a bonded title). This is done so that the individual applying for a title does not have to present the physical Texas title with the non-repairable brand. If that jurisdiction is not participating in NMVTIS, they would not know to add the brand since a title was not surrendered.
Another scheme is to simply remove the brand by physically altering the title and portraying the vehicle as not having a value-limiting brand. This concept applies to all brands - flood damage, rebuilt salvage, not actual miles, etc. - not just non-repairable brands. Again, a jurisdiction that is participating in NMVTIS would see the brand from Texas and should apply that brand based on their laws, even if the surrendered title does not have a brand.
One company that sells vehicle history reports to consumers conducts an annual survey of the states with the most cases of title washing. In 2014, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Mississippi topped the list.
Here is a list of states that do not participate in NMVTIS:
- District of Columbia
- North Carolina
If you have any doubt about a vehicle coming into your inventory, have it looked at by a mechanic you trust. Many cases have been reported of vehicle repairs that should have been done using welding, but actually have car sections simply bolted together. One case in Maryland involved a vehicle whose engine was held together in some places with plastic zip ties.
The old adage “buyer beware” applies to all of us. Do what you can to make wise vehicle purchase decisions, whether it's a trade-in, an auction purchase, or even another dealer.