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How To Turn a Rebuilt Title To a Clean Title? What You Need To Know!

salesman giving car keys to buyer

Turning a rebuilt car title into a clean title is impossible. And you’ll understand why, once we’re done elucidating the differences between the two. Because we want to be methodical in our approach, we’ll kick this off by first explaining the primary purpose of a title.

In the United States, you have to sign a few documents before transferring the ownership of a vehicle from person A to B. And one of those documents is a legal form commonly referred to as the title.

It’s obviously an important document, seeing as it’s the form that officially makes you the owner of said vehicle—you have to have it whether you’re purchasing a new car or a used one.

Other than ownership transfer, a title also gives you a record of the car’s history. And that’s where the debate of clean vs. rebuilt titles comes in.

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Rebuilt Title

While shopping for used cars, it’s easy to spot one that has a rebuilt title. They are always marked-down listings that are meant to lure buyers looking for cheaper options. A rebuilt title is a title that tells any interested buyer that there was a time the car was considered ‘totaled’.

Totaled is a word that auto insurance companies like to throw around just to let people know the vehicle has been damaged to the extent that it’s now being treated as a total loss. If you see the vehicle on sale, that could only mean one thing—someone out there never gave up on it and decided to fix what’s broken to bring it back to life.

Will it be safe to drive? Most likely. You can usually be sure of this because the previous owner had to put the car through an inspection check before putting it on the market. That’s a requirement of the law. If he or she didn’t follow the correct procedure and the car gets into yet another accident, they’ll be in serious trouble.

used white car for sale
Image Credit: reverent, Pixabay

Clean Title

The Department of Motor Vehicles(DMV) issues clean titles to let people know that these vehicles haven’t been deemed total losses at any point. Cars that have been totaled are usually referred to as salvage cars, and the titles they are given are also called salvage titles.

That being said, just because a car has a “clean” title doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

It could have:
  • Mechanical problems such as engine or transmission issues. These two have never been an insurable concern. This means it’s possible to purchase a car that has one of these problems.
  • Sloppy repairs done by a mechanic who didn’t actually know what the problem was at the time. We’ve heard of instances where owners decided it was a good idea to pay mechanics to “make it look like everything’s okay” to avoid insurance claims that could impact their premiums. Such problems often go unnoticed, thereby not showing up on the final report.
  • A reconstructive surgery. This is often an option once the insurer realizes that the cost of repairs after a collision is close to tens of thousands of dollars because they have to fix the frame of the vehicle in the process. They’ll do whatever they deem to be sufficient so that the car can get a clean title.

Now let’s circle back to our main topic of discussion. As you can see, you cannot turn a rebuilt title into a clean title because that would mean you’re trying to erase the vehicle’s history. The previous damages, repairs, and everything else. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out how fraudulent that sounds—if there’s someone out there telling you it’s possible, they are talking about title washing.

Title Washing

This is the unscrupulous practice of shipping a rebuilt titled car to a different state—especially states where the vehicle’s issues won’t be recognized—to obtain a clean title. The people who are involved in this business have already studied the system and understand how to circumnavigate it so as not to get caught.

There are two reasons why anybody would consider washing their title. One, they want to sell their car at a higher price but they know their rebuilt title will force them to sell at a discounted price. And two, the vehicle probably has a lienholder(a loan lender that has a legal claim to a financed car) making it difficult to sell without their consent or stamp of approval.

wrecked cars
Image Credit: Gorlov-KV, Shutterstock

How many vehicles have washed titles?

Carfax estimates that there are more than 800,000 cars in the United States that have washed titles. If you look at the Gulf States, for example, many of the cars in those areas may be damaged by floods from hurricanes or heavy storms.

These are not the type of cars that we want on our roads because floodwater has the potential to cause serious damage to any vehicle’s components. In the presence of oxygen, water can easily corrode the metal parts.

Assuming the car is still in an incredible state, not revealing this information to a potential buyer is unethical. The authorities understand this, and that’s why the practice is frowned upon.

How does title washing work?

Although the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System has a way of tracking these titles, some of them don’t have digital footprints. So, you’ll find people taking advantage of this by altering the documents that they were given by hand.

That’s one way. The other way has to do with the fact that we have states that only allocate rebuilt titles in their DMV files, but not the actual titles. Consequently, if the owner feels like it he or she could just fix whatever’s broken, add a fresh coat of paint on the body, and then sell the car to an unsuspecting buyer who wouldn’t even think about checking the history of the car.

To be honest, we’ve even heard of cases where people managed to sell stolen cars after tweaking their Vehicle Identification Numbers(VIN) to correspond to those of salvaged cars.

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Final Words

Remember, title washing is fraud. Anyone who’s telling you to consider hiding a vehicle’s history is acting like a criminal, trying to lead you down the wrong path. If you feel like there’s a piece of information that was missing during your title application, you can reapply for a new title, instead of trying something that will potentially earn you a prison sentence.

Featured Image Credit: 89stocker, Shutterstock


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