Understanding title washing

On Behalf of | Sep 13, 2023 | Auto Dealer Fraud

A car is a big investment, so one of the most critical steps in the purchase process is checking the vehicle’s title and history.

Unfortunately, a practice known as “title washing” can fool even the most careful consumer. Learning more can help you avoid falling prey to this all-too-common practice, 

What is title washing? 

Title washing is the practice of manipulating or altering a vehicle’s title to hide its true condition or salvage history. The goal, of course, is to trick consumers into thinking they’re getting a quality used car, not a bucket of bolts that’s seen better days.

Title washing is something that tends to crop up a lot again every time there are major hurricanes and storms around the country since auto dealers are eager to unload flooded vehicles – but it can happen anywhere, anytime. 

How does title washing work?

Title washing typically involves moving a vehicle between different states or jurisdictions with varying title laws. Here’s how it can happen:

  • The seller transfers the vehicle to a state with lax title branding laws, where a salvage or rebuilt title may be rebranded as “clean.”
  • A seller just applies for a new title (sometimes after moving states) without disclosing the vehicle’s true history. They may lie by omission or blatantly provide false information.
  • The seller forges or alters the title information just to remove any branding that is problematic.

Purchasing a title-washed vehicle can lead to a host of problems for buyers. Among other things, the vehicle may have substantial damage or a history of being in a severe accident, which can compromise its safety and performance. Plus, the unsuspecting buyer may end up paying much more for the vehicle than it’s worth.

You can protect yourself by hiring a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection and purchasing the vehicle’s history report on your own – but no method is perfect. If you’ve fallen victim to an unethical auto dealer, it may be time to explore legal options.