Here’s the first thing you need to know about salvage title vehicles: they’re worth a fraction of the value of the same car that has a clean title. The second thing you need to know is that salvage vehicles can be poorly repaired, if they’re repaired at all. And the third thing you need to know is that dealers who sell salvage vehicles are bound by law to disclose that the vehicle has a salvage title.
What Is Disclosure?
When a dealer discloses that a vehicle has a salvage title, it has to be a real disclosure. It can’t be buried in fine print. If a dealer says that a car “may” have been salvaged, or “may” have been totaled, that’s not enough.
However, a dealership will often say that they had no idea that a vehicle had a salvage title. This is not to be believed. A dealership always knows the title history on a vehicle they’re selling, and they know if it’s clean or salvage. If a dealership tries to tell you that they don’t know if a vehicle has a salvage title, walk away. The dealership is under a duty to know what kind of history a vehicle has before they put it up for sale.
Dealerships have any number of ways of trying to hide a salvage title. The most frequent means is what’s known as “title washing”. This is a process whereby a car is sent out of a particular state to get a title, and then brought back into the original state, or even sent to a third state, in order to be sold. It works because it takes time for the title to be recorded in other states.
Often, the title brand won’t show up until an unsuspecting customer has bought the vehicle. Even if the brand doesn’t show up at the time of sale, and is later reported, the dealership isn’t necessarily off the hook if they knew that the car had a salvage brand in its history, which is very likely.
You Must Protect Yourself
So, how are you going to protect yourself against a dealer who is unscrupulously trying to sell you a salvage car without your knowledge? First, you can get a Carfax report. It won’t protect you completely against all types of malfeasance, but it usually will tell you if the car is a salvage vehicle.
Some dealerships will offer you a free Carfax report before you sign the purchase agreement. Then they might claim that the report didn’t come through, but you should just sign and they’ll give you the report later.
Don’t sign. Keep in mind that a dealership isn’t bound by any law to give you a Carfax report, but if they promise one and seem reluctant to deliver it, that’s a red flag that you should walk away from the deal.
What Can You Do?
If you do end up with a salvage vehicle, and the dealership didn’t disclose that status to you, ask for your money back. Demand a trade of your choice, of equal value. If they don’t make it right, see a lawyer to ensure that your rights are protected.