If you’re purchasing a used car, it’s important to know whether the vehicle has been in a major collision or suffered some other type of serious damage. This information will usually be reflected in the car’s title. If the car has been significantly compromised in any way, it will be assigned a “branded title.” Title branding is handled by a state agency; it can’t be executed by a private party. It is tied to the vehicle identification number, or VIN.
Common Types of Title Brands
A title’s brand provides insight into what kind of damage the vehicle has suffered. For example, different brands are assigned to let you know if a vehicle has been submerged in a flood, or if it has previously been returned for excessive defects that could affect its safety on the road.
Below are some of the most common types of title brands. Different states may have varying definitions for the brands used, so it’s important to check in with your local Department of Motor Vehicles for specific insight into what each brand means in your state.
1. Lemon Title Brand
Most states have laws that allow consumers to return new cars that have proven to be excessively defective. These laws are known as lemon laws, and they work to protect consumers who have purchased poorly made products. Lemon laws set clear parameters regarding what kind of defects qualify a car for return. However, these laws vary from state to state, and a car that is deemed a lemon in one state may not meet the minimum requirements for this designation in another.
While different states have different definitions for what constitutes a lemon, this designation typically has a common thread: It aims to identify cars with defects that can make the vehicle unsafe to drive.
If a consumer has used lemon law protections to return a car, this brand will be reflected on the vehicle’s title if it is sold as a used car at a future date. This brand – known as a lemon title brand – can be reflected on the used car’s CARFAX Vehicle History Report. You can learn more about lemon cars on this page.
2. Odometer Rollback Title Brand
A car’s mileage has a profound impact on its value. All other things being equal, a used car that’s barely been driven will fetch a higher price than one with lots of miles on the odometer. With this in mind, dishonest sellers may alter the reading of a used car’s odometer so that it reflects less miles than the car has actually driven. This is known as odometer rollback, and it is illegal.
Odometer rollback can be hard to detect. In many cases, it takes a skilled mechanic to identify whether a car has been tampered with in this way. If it’s been proven that a vehicle’s odometer has been rolled back by a seller, it will be given an odometer rollback title brand.
3. Salvage Title Brand
If a vehicle suffers damage that costs more to repair than its fair market value, it may be issued a salvage title. These titles are commonly issued in situations where an insurance company has declared a policyholder’s vehicle to be a total loss, or totaled car. A salvage title brand is not necessarily a reason for refusing to purchase a used car, but having this information available can help you make an informed decision.
Not all states have the same definition for what constitutes a salvage title, and this can cause a car’s record to sometimes get wiped clean as it moves from one state to the next. A CARFAX Vehicle History Report can provide you with a quick and easy way of determining whether a car has ever been issued a salvage title. You can learn more about salvage titles on this page.
If you own a car with a salvage title and you’re looking to get rid of it, read our article on how to sell a junk car.
4. Rebuilt Title Brand
A vehicle can receive a rebuilt title brand if it’s been declared a total loss by an insurance company and/or issued a salvage title, but is then repaired to roadworthy condition.
Buying a vehicle with a rebuilt title can save you money, but it comes with risks. You can learn more about the pros and cons of buying a car with a rebuilt title on this page.
5. Water Damage Title Brand
Floods can be devastating, including to the cars that survive them. Flood water can cause mildew and mold in a car’s interior, and it can ruin the health of its engine.
Even though you may not live in an area prone to the types of storms that cause flooding, you may still encounter flood-damaged vehicles on the used car market. This is because many flood-damaged cars travel across state borders in their search to find buyers.
If a vehicle has been compromised by a flood or some other type of water damage, it will be given a water damage title brand. A CARFAX Vehicle History Report can let you know if a car’s title has ever been branded for water damage.
For more information, visit our flood-damaged cars page, where you can also get a free CARFAX Flood Check to see if water damage has been reported on your vehicle.
6. Hail Damage Title Brand
Nearly 60% of severe weather insurance claims in 2015 were attributed to hail. At the same time, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration reports that $1 billion in property damage is caused by hail each year.
As you can imagine, hail damage can have a significant impact on the resale value of a vehicle. That can mean significant savings for used-car shoppers if the damage is disclosed, but it can also hit buyers hard if an unethical seller tries to hide information about hail damage.
If you’re considering a used car, examine it closely. Hail damage can be more severe than you might notice at first glance, so a thorough visual inspection is crucial. Ideally, you should have the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic. Further, an insurance provider might not issue comprehensive coverage on a hail-damaged car, and some lenders will not finance a car with hail damage.
Many states issue a title brand for hail damage, but some (such as Texas) do not. When hail damage has been reported by an insurance company, or a state department of motor vehicles, you’ll find that information on a CARFAX Vehicle History Report. In addition to looking for a hail damage title brand, be on the lookout for total loss or salvage title brands, and check to see in which states the vehicle you’re considering was previously registered.
The following DMVs issue a title brand specifically for hail damage:
District of Columbia
What Is Title Washing?
Different states have different interpretations of what qualifies a car to be branded in a certain way. These variances can sometimes cause a car whose title has been branded in one state to lose this branding if it’s put up for sale in a state with different laws. A dishonest seller can take advantage of this by selectively selling a car is a state in which the vehicle’s previous title brand isn’t recognized. This is known as title washing.
The best way to avoid purchasing a used car whose title has been washed is to invest in a CARFAX Vehicle History Report. This report will give you a thorough and complete picture of all brands that have ever been attached to a used car’s title. You can learn more about title washing on this page.