What Is Title Washing and How Can if Affect Your Car Buying Process?

When you purchase a vehicle, it will come with a title: a document showing that you own the car. This will contain important information about the vehicle, like if it had been totaled by an insurance agency in the past. This helps make the car buying process much more manageable. 

Unfortunately, some of the vital information concerning the vehicle can get deleted from the title using a process known as title washing. What is it, and how does it affect your car shopping experience?

What does the term ‘Title Washing’ really mean?

A vehicle paperwork and title attached to a windshield
Vehicle paperwork attached to a windshield | Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Title washing is the process a person will go through to get specific information removed from a vehicle’s title document. According to Carfax, it’s considered an illegal act because most culprits that do it are trying to get rid of the branding of the car, like a salvaged title, which would indicate damage that has occurred with the vehicle. 

It can also remove a rebuilt title or the lien information on the car, so they don’t have to divulge that info when they’re selling it. What’s surprising about this is that it’s not all that hard to accomplish for those wanting to make a profit. 

The easiest way is to try and title the vehicle in a state that doesn’t recognize the title branding seen with the car in question. For a vehicle that’s been flooded or in a severe collision and rebuilt, titling it in a state that doesn’t use the same kind of branding as the original state used can undoubtedly have that info wiped clean from the title. Suddenly you have a perfectly normal vehicle. One clue that there may be something wrong is an unusually cheap price for what looks like a great deal on paper.

Why is title washing a bad thing?

Purchasing a vehicle with previous damage you’re not aware of can put you at serious risk. A flooded car can corrode some of the electronics in the car. Eventually, those components will break down and cause issues, which could affect the car’s performance on the road, especially if the repairs that were done previously weren’t up to snuff. 

Additionally, it can affect the value of the vehicle when you go to trade it in for a new one. According to Dirt Legal, an unsuspecting owner bought a Ram truck from one dealer thinking they got a great deal. It wasn’t until they went to have it evaluated at another dealer for possible trade-in years later that the owner learned the truth.

His truck had more mileage than he thought, had been in numerous accidents, and went through more owners than he was told when he bought it. That owner was lucky that he hadn’t experienced any significant problems like others.

Can you protect yourself from getting scammed by title washing?

As easy as it is for scammers to wash a title, it’s just as easy to uncover their illegal deeds with a bit of research. You just need to know where to look. The first thing to remember is not to rely on the title or the dealer/person’s words about the vehicle. Find out for yourself. 

Get the car’s vehicle identification number and perform a history check. This will uncover any accidents the vehicle has been in, flood damages, and whether the vehicle has been the victim of thieves. Carfax and other sites like it are great tools to understand what your vehicle has been through, like if it had damage, where it was, and how severe it was. 

If you find that the vehicle has had a title washing done on a car, you’re encouraged to report it. Contact your state’s Attorney General, or you can call the Department of Consumer Affairs to let them know about the scam you came across. Even the local law enforcement agency can help. This kind of fraud is considered a federal crime, so be sure to alert the appropriate agencies so the perpetrators can be tried for their crimes. 

Title washing is an illegal act scammers use to hide information on a vehicle so they can sell it for a much higher price. If you’re in the market looking for a used vehicle, be sure to conduct some research before handing over any money to ensure that what you’re buying isn’t a salvaged car in disguise.

RELATED: Reasons A Car Might Have A Branded Title