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A car title, sometimes called a vehicle title, is a document issued by the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) that states the current owner of the car, their address, and the vehicle's mileage when the title was transferred to the current owner. In some states, the title contains addition information called title brands.
What Are Title Brands?
Title brands don't refer to the brand of the vehicle; they indicate if there are serious known issues with the vehicle itself. Several states decided to use title brands as a form of consumer protection.
Whenever a car is damaged by a storm – which is becoming more and more common – the owner is generally paid the full value of the vehicle by the insurance company. Because storm damage isn't visible to the naked eye, some owners would then try to sell these vehicles after getting full value from their insurance companies. To prevent that, these states now brand the title with the word “salvage” to alert potential buyers.
The same process happens if a vehicle is declared totaled after a major accident. In that case, the brand generally reads “totaled.”
Some vehicles have been repaired so often they have become subject to a given state's “Lemon Laws.” In that case, the title brands the vehicle as a lemon.
Why Should I Search For Title Brands?
Title brands are important. They are only issued for a given vehicle if the state has good reason to think it will have major, and expensive, mechanical problems down the line. Unless you are buying the vehicle for spare parts, you want to avoid purchasing any vehicle that has been the subject of a title brand.
If The Brand Is On The Title, Why Should I Have To Search For it?
The problem with the title brand program is that it is not universal, because every state has its own laws related to vehicle title branding. This means that someone could have the title of their vehicle branded in one state, but drive to another state and have the car registered without a title brand – and the average consumer would have no way of knowing about it.
The good news is that the title brand remains a public record, so a vehicle history report will reveal it. Learning this protects you as a potential buyer of the vehicle.
Are There Other Reasons To Do A Title Search?
Yes. Modern technology has made it easy for criminals to create realistic-looking counterfeit vehicle titles. This helps them sell stolen cars. By performing a title search, you are ensuring that the title they are selling you is real, and that you are not about to buy a stolen car – which would be a violation of the law. Title searches can also let you know if the car has been bought and sold many times. As a rule of thumb, the more owners a given vehicle has had, the more repairs it will need in the future.