Vehicle History Scams: New Study on Title Washing
Buying used can be a great way to get a car for a good price. There’s nothing wrong with trying to find a great deal on a car by finding one that only has a little bit of wear and tear, or is only a few years out of manufacture. However, there are also lots of potential problems you can run into when you buy a used car.
You may think that you’re ready to buy your used car, and that you know about all the problems that you could run into. But do you know about title washing? Here are some things to know about this malpractice, which could completely ruin your car-buying experience.
How Unscrupulous Sellers Mislead Buyers Like You
When a car has been damaged, many states require that the car’s title is “branded.” This means that the title is stamped with the extent to which the car has been damaged. These stamps are usually part of insurance claims. However, they’re also helpful to future buyers, as they can be a useful way to accurately assess the current state of the car.
The thing is, these laws are not countrywide. They vary state to state, both in thoroughness and in damage assessment. Title laws in Texas, for example, require that flood damage be noted on a title, but there are multiple states that don’t include flood damage in titles. A shady seller can take their title, which may note damage, to another state that won’t note the damage, thereby making a dirty title clean.
The Surprising Prevalence of Title Washing
Title washing is illegal, even though title laws vary throughout the country. However, just because it’s illegal doesn’t stop some less-reputable sellers from doing it. You may think that you only have a low risk of encountering a vehicle with a washed title, but the fact is, it happens more often than you would think.
It’s estimated that over a million cars in America have washed titles. For most states, the average title washing incidence is one in every 400-500 cars, but it gets worse. The state with the highest incidence of washed titles is Mississippi, where one in every 45 cars has a washed title. Depending on where you live, it’s highly likely that you’ll deal with a washed title if you’re looking at used cars.
While the prevalence of title washing varies from state to state, it also varies in relation to a number of other factors. If a significant natural disaster has recently occurred, especially if it occurred in your state, you’ll want to be very careful. In fact, you may want to avoid buying a used car altogether for at least a few months. It’s likely that many of those used vehicles were, in fact damaged, but they may have been the victim of title washing.
What Can I Do to Avoid Falling Victim to Title Washing Scams?
Title washing scams target everyone, including people who think they’re too smart for it. Just because you know scams are out there doesn’t mean you’ll be able to avoid them.
However, there are a few tips that you can use to avoid title washing scams.
- Pay attention to the odometer. You can expect a car to accumulate between 10,000 and 15,000 miles per year, so check the odometer and make sure the number matches up. If it doesn’t — especially if it’s extremely low — the odometer may have been tampered with.
- Do a full physical examination of the car before you even consider buying it. Rust and leaks on the underside of the car, a variety of tires or hubcaps, badly-done or mismatched paint jobs, and unevenly worn tires can all be signs of a car that’s been poorly repaired.
- If possible, take the car for a test drive as early as possible in the car buying process. If the tires feel uneven or worn, there are knocks and bumps coming from the car, or you notice difficulty with steering or brakes, those are all potential signs of a faulty repair.
- Do a full vehicle history check using the VIN number. As opposed to a car’s title, which is tracked through a legal function that varies from state to state, vehicle history is tracked using multiple sources. When those sources are combined, you get a much more accurate and complete picture of what’s actually happened to that automobile.
What Title Washing Means for You
If you’re buying a used car, you need to do your research. There are plenty of things you can research about car models, years, brands, and more. But at the end of the day, the history of a specific car will determine the deal you’re getting. Make sure you’re aware of title washing so you can get a great deal on a truly great car.