Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Title Washing

What is Title Washing?

Title washing is a way for a person to purchase a salvage title vehicle and use various means to remove the salvage “branding” from the title so the car can be sold at its full market value.

How does title washing work?

Let’s talk about a flooded vehicle that an insurance company has purchased from the owner and sold at auction with a salvage title. A buyer purchases the vehicle at auction for a fraction of its full market value, then moves the vehicle to a state with lax laws on title restoration. For example, some states don’t require flood-damaged vehicles to be labeled as “flooded” or salvage. Other states don’t require salvage branding on vehicles more than 7 or 8 years old.

In cases of accident damage, the scam works the same way. A buyer purchases the vehicle at an auction in one state and moves it to a state with a less vigorous inspection program. The buyer performs minimal repairs, just enough to make it cosmetically appealing and operational, and gets it inspected to obtain a restored title.

Flooded vehicles are the easiest to title wash. Once the buyer purchases the vehicle, they immediately remove the seats and carpet. They steam clean and sanitize the carpet and padding. They shampoo and sanitize the seats, door trim panels, and headliner. Then they steam clean the engine compartment, under carriage, and trunk. They drain and replace all the fluids. Then they perform a full detail on the paint and sell the vehicle to you. It’ll look great. But because all the electronics were underwater, you’ll have nothing but electrical problems from that point on.

How to spot a title washed vehicle

It’s hard to spot a title-washed vehicle without some VIN and online research. Always start with the VIN and CarFax or AutoCheck to find out where the vehicle was titled. Then follow the owner transfers. For example. if the car was titled in Florida and was title transferred within 6 months or so following a major Florida hurricane to a state with lax title laws, chances are almost 100% that you’re buying a flooded vehicle.

In 2005 Hurricanes Karina and Rita flooded over 600,000 cars in the Gulf states. A high number of those vehicles were re-titled through other states with looser title laws.

If the vehicle is titled as salvage or flooded in one state and is sold with a “clean title” in another state, chances are high that you’re looking at a title washed vehicle.

©, 2021 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat

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