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Automotive Title Brands

What is a Title Brand?

Title brands tell potential customers whether a used vehicle has sustained damage or might be potentially unsafe to drive. Note that if a vehicle's title has been "branded," it is an official designation made by a state agency and should appear on the vehicle's title paperwork. Neither individuals nor private companies can brand titles.

While title brands vary by state, some of the most common ones include:

  • Salvage
  • Junk
  • Totaled
  • Lemon
  • Flood
  • Reconstructed

Not only do different states have their own specific set of title brands, but what might be considered a salvage title in one state may have a slightly different definition in another state. If you have questions about what title brands are used in your state, we recommend contacting your state's department of motor vehicles.

An AutoCheck vehicle history report is a valuable tool when trying to figure out whether a vehicle you want to purchase has a branded title. Within the report, you will be notified of any records that AutoCheck has in its database on whether or not a branded title has been issued on a specific vehicle.

Odometer Rollback Title Brand

You should know from the outset that detecting odometer rollback is very difficult if you are not a certified mechanic, mostly because anyone who commits the fraudulent act of rolling back an odometer to conceal actual mileage is aware of how to hide it.

Taking the vehicle to a mechanic for an inspection is a very good way to discover whether a vehicle's odometer has been rolled back. A good mechanic will know what signs to look for and can point them out over the course of the inspection.

Another step you can take is purchasing an AutoCheck vehicle history report. An AutoCheck vehicle history report will notify you if the vehicle has been reported as having a rolled-back odometer.

Some signs of whether a vehicle may have an odometer rollback problem include:

  • Excessive wear in places such as gas and brake pedals, floor mats and seats
  • Mismatched tires
  • Missing screws around the dashboard or signs that the dashboard has been removed
  • Mileage on vehicle and title don't match up
  • Misaligned numbers on the odometer

Remember that these types of signs could be normal wear and tear on a vehicle, and none of them are a sure sign that the odometer has been compromised. However, if you notice any of these things, it would be a good idea to bring it to the attention of the mechanic doing your inspection.

Because mechanical wear and tear is more difficult to cover up because of the cost, your mechanic should be able to give you an idea on whether the mechanical wear and tear is consistent with the vehicle's mileage.

For more information on odometer rollback, please visit the Office of Odometer Fraud Investigations (a division of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

Lemon Title Brand

It is common to call any car that has excessive mechanical problems a "lemon." However, you might not know that each state has its own standards (or "lemon laws") on what actually makes a vehicle a lemon. In fact, not all states even have lemon laws.

Generally speaking, if a certain element of a vehicle has malfunctioned several times while under warranty, and this malfunctioning element makes the car inoperable or unsafe to drive, such a vehicle could be branded by the state as a lemon on its title.

The key point is that the problem with the vehicle must be so severe as to make the vehicle a) undriveable or b) unsafe to drive. If your car is making a strange noise, but drives just fine, most likely your vehicle would not be classified as a lemon. If your car's brakes or headlights don't work or if the car cannot drive in reverse, those are more serious problems that would probably make the car a lemon.

Another key point is that the manufacturer be given a chance to repair the problem. If the vehicle continues to have the same problem (even after three or four attempts to repair it), the vehicle can be branded as a lemon. In addition, the problems must have occurred during the warranty period.

To find out if your vehicle is a lemon, purchase an AutoCheck vehicle history report. AutoCheck will note on your report if the vehicle has a lemon title.

It's important to remember that each state has its own lemon law. Your vehicle might be considered a lemon in one state but not considered a lemon in another state. Contact your state department of motor vehicles to learn more about the lemon laws in your state.

Salvage Title Brand

A salvage title is often issued by states when a vehicle is damaged and the cost to repair is significant (usually if it is over a certain percentage of fair market value). One way a vehicle may end up with a salvage title is when an insurance company declares a vehicle a total loss.

If the salvage vehicle is rebuilt, the "Salvage" title brand might be changed to a "Rebuilt Salvage." Usually such a change requires an inspection.

A problem often occurs when a salvaged and rebuilt vehicle is sold in another state. Because title brand definitions vary by state, sometimes a title brand will not transfer to the title in the new state, which means the title becomes "clean." Unscrupulous sellers can increase the sale price of rebuilt cars by "cleaning" or "washing" the titles by registering them in states where the title brands do not transfer.

To protect yourself from such hidden title brands, purchase an AutoCheck vehicle history report. AutoCheck receives title brand, registration and other important information over the life of the vehicle, regardless of where the vehicle is registered.

Even if a vehicle moves to another state that doesn't recognize certain brands, the AutoCheck vehicle history will still reflect all previously reported title brands.

Water Damage Title Brand

Hurricanes, thunderstorms and flash flooding are responsible for water damage on many vehicles each year in the United States. Don't think that because you live miles from a hurricane or flood zone that you won't encounter a water-damaged vehicle. It is common for vehicles to be moved thousands of miles before they are put up for sale. How can you be sure the vehicle you're about to purchase has not been involved in a natural disaster and sustained significant water damage?

Remember that it's always a good idea to have the vehicle examined by a certified mechanic before you purchase it. A trained mechanic will know what to look for when it comes to water damage.

You should also purchase an AutoCheck vehicle history report to make sure the title has not been branded with water damage at some point in its past. If the vehicle's title has been reported as branded with water damage, it will be on your report.

With that said, there are still a few things you can check for that may indicate whether the vehicle has sustained significant water damage:

  • Does the vehicle have rust in spots that should have minimal contact with water (such as the dashboard or glove compartment)?
  • Does the vehicle have a moldy or musty smell?
  • Are the electrical parts (such as the air conditioner, windshield wipers, etc.) in good working order?
  • Check the floorboard carpet for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water.
  • Check for rust on screws in the console or other areas where the water would normally not reach unless submerged.
  • Check for mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
  • Check the electrical wiring system, looking for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.
  • Inspect the undercarriage of other components for evidence of rust and flaking metal that would not normally be associated with late-model vehicles.

By taking a few simple precautions, you can avoid a vehicle that has been damaged by water.


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