If you’re purchasing a used car, one of the most important things is to check if it has a clean title. A clean title signifies the car hasn’t been reported to have major issues or declared as a total loss, and it’s generally more reliable in the long term.
To avoid buying a problematic car with salvage/rebuilt titles and paying more than its worth, you should conduct a title search prior to the purchase.
What is a clean title?
Initially, every vehicle starts with a clean title, indicating it’s in a legal, drivable condition and has not been declared as a total loss by insurance companies. Total loss occurs when the cost of repairing the car exceeds its market value.
Here are some common title brands. Their definition may vary slightly by different states.
- Salvage Title – The vehicle was involved in a major accident and is deemed a total loss, requiring extensive repairs and rendering it uninsurable.
- Junk Title – The car is irreparable and may only be good for parts or scrap metal.
- Rebuilt or Reconstructed Title – The vehicle with salvage title was repaired correctly, passed safety inspection, and can be legally driven.
- Odometer Rollback Title – The mileage of the vehicle has been illegally alerted or rolled back.
- Lemon Title – The car has a substantial defect or multiple defects that affect its safety, value, or use, and that cannot be fixed after a reasonable number of attempts
- Flood Title – The car has sustained damage from sitting in water deep enough to fill the engine compartment.
However, a clean title doesn’t necessarily mean a vehicle is flawless or accident-free. If the damage is minor and it’s sufficiently repaired, the vehicle title remains “clean”. And if the owner didn’t report the accident or damages, the title won’t reflect that information as well.
Why do you need to check a car title?
Some unscrupulous sellers engage in title washing, where they physically alter the original salvage titles or remove negative title brands to sell the vehicle for a higher price. Such deceitful tactic can be difficult to recognize.
To learn about a used car’s real status and history and protect yourself from potential safety issues, you should check its detailed history and also perform a thorough inspection.
1. Check vehicle history report
NMVTIS (The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System) is the official source to check vehicle title and brand information, as all states, insurance carriers, and junk and salvage yards have to report to this database.
Individual consumers can obtain NMVTIS vehicle history reports through one of its approved data providers below:
Option 1. BeenVerified
BeenVerified is a reputable online people search tool. Featuring a robust database of public records, it provides convenient access to vehicle data associated with ownership, title, recalls, market value, and so on. Better yet, you can use BeenVerified to verify someone’s identity and background by name and phone number.
1) Navigate to the BeenVerified vehicle search page. Choose to search by a VIN or license plate number. Then enter the number and click SEARCH.
2) Wait while the report generates. From the navigation pane, you can click each section like vehicle owner, vehicle specifications, salvage & title records, market value for more details.
Option 2. Bumper
As a professional vehicle search engine, Bumper aims to make your car buying easier. With millions of accurate data from reliable sources like government agencies, insurance providers, and car industry sources, it discovers a variety of information, including the vehicle’s history, damage reports, service records, and more.
1) Go to Bumper’s car title search page.
2) Enter the car’s VIN number and click SEARCH.
3) Once it finishes scanning, unlock the report to see if your car has a clean or branded title. You could also download the Bumper app to view the report on your mobile devices.
Option 3. EpicVIN
EpicVIN is a professional and trustworthy NMVTIS-approved data provider. It provides comprehensive and well-detailed vehicle history reports that cover the following information: odometer readings, previous owners, damages, accidents, recalls, photos, title information, and more.
1) Visit the official EpicVIN website. You can try searching by a VIN or US License Plate number.
2) EpicVIN displays all the available vehicle details in a user-friendly interface. The report contains odometer checks, open safety recall checks, salvage/insurance records and even title brand checks across major states so you know whether the vehicle holds a clean title across all states.
2. Look up pictures of vehicle damages
If a vehicle has a salvage title, you may find traces across the web about the vehicle having serious damages or accidents.
Simply search the VIN on Google and view relevant image results.
If the vehicle was put on sale or auction, there may be pictures showing the possible damage to the vehicle or how severe the damage was.
We found lots of Reddit discussion about discrepancies between a clean vehicle report and findings from other official resources, for example, a clean Carfax contrast with NICB data, which showed the vehicle was a total loss1.
It’s recommended you conduct thorough investigations using diverse resources and tools like VIN reports, search engines, and official databases. Most importantly, have the vehicle thoroughly inspected to identify any signs of unreported damages or accidents.
Vehicle Title Check
Enter a VIN or license plate to get vehicle history records
Approved NMVTIS Data Provider
Hopefully this post helped. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below.
- r/askcarsales. [Villassassin007]. (2022, June 20) Clean carfax but NICB shows total loss? [Online forum post]. Reddit. https://www.reddit.com/r/askcarsales/comments/vgmzqf/clean_carfax_but_nicb_shows_total_loss/ ↩︎