This does not involve throwing your title in the washing machine and adding detergent to clean it.

Here's how it works. Several states have laws requiring titles of vehicles totaled in a accident (or other insurance claim) to be branded. Branding involves stamping the title with one of the following (or similar) words: Rebuilt - Salvage - Junk. The brand is placed on the title when the insurance company reports the total loss to the state and before it is sold as salvage.

Other states do not require branding of their vehicles following a total loss claim.

Buyers of these branded salvage cars are very aware of which states require branding and which ones do not. They buy the cars, rebuild them and then want to sell them back to the unsuspecting public without the brand.

To do this, they take the title (not the car) to another state and register the title there. Since that state doesn't brand the car, the brand is removed and nothing reflects the vehicle is a salvage rebuild.

With a "washed" title, they can sell the car for more than they could have had it been branded REBUILT.

One more important issue needs to be addressed - many states DO NOT regulate to any degree, if at all, salvage rebuilders. In many states anyone can buy salvage, rebuild it and sell it. Or, if a license is required to buy the salvage, there are no laws (or inspection) requiring the salvage be rebuilt using manufacturing standards of repair. The license is merely a tax, no credentials are needed to buy the license.

Three cases we know of that illustrates the problems with this are:

  • A mother purchased a car for her son. He went out for the evening and arrived home (none to soon) parking the car at the curb in front of his home. Shortly after entering the house, son and mom heard a loud crash outside. Running out to look, they found their sitting at the curb in two pieces: front and back. The car had been sectioned together using bolts rather than being welded together.
  • An insurance agent found a great deal for a car for his daughter. Shortly after purchasing it, he learned about the multitude of things that were wrong with the rebuild (the title did not reflect the branding). He spent several thousand dollars making the car right before selling it.
  • Two college kids were headed home for spring break when another car struck them. The impact caused the roof of their car to disengage from the body of the car, killing one student and permanently injuring the other. The car was a rebuild of a car damaged in a roll over accident, requiring the roof to be replaced. Instead of properly welding and reinforcing the pillars (vertical roof supports) as required, the roof was braised using copper, all hidden under the paint. The car is touted as the safest on the road - a Volvo; but once the integrity of the vehicle was compromised by the inexcusable technique used for rebuilding it, it became nothing more than a death trap.

The laws in your state will not protect you. Until every state mandates title branding, requires certified rebuilding licenses and establishes rebuilding requirements (and inspections), you should be VERY wary before buying a used car.

There are several companies that offer vehicle history reports on cars. Use them! Any reputable (read that word again...REPUTABLE) car dealer will gladly provide you with contact information for a company that specializes in Vehicle History Reports. Note: If the person selling you the car answers, "duh" or "Ha ha ha, you don't need no stinkin' report. This car belonged to a little old lady who only drove it to church and to the ceramics shop," we suggest that you run, not walk, to a legitimate used car dealership.

We're not trying to be melodramatic when we say that this scam can prove to be a life or death situation ... but it can.

Be careful, America