Vehicle Title Search & Lookup

What is a car title and why is it important?

The car title shows who owns the vehicle. A title is a government-issued document that serves as legal proof of ownership, it is also also known as a pink slip. Without it, you can not prove your ownership legally. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the Department of Transportation issue the title when the vehicle is sold. If you have taken out a loan, the lender will retain title until the loan is repaid.

 Car titles are not only used to convey ownership but also to classify vehicles based on their history and condition. This is a very useful piece of paper to see if a car has been imported, rebuilt, or even scrapped. The title is essential to registering or selling a vehicle. When buying a car, it’s important to understand the different title types and lookup title by VIN.

The title usually contains the following information, with some differences between states: 

  • Owner’s name
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Odometer reading at the time of the sale
  • Lienholder information if the sale is financed
  • Weight class
  • Title assignment segment with name, address, date of sale, and signatures of buyer and seller

How to get the title?

 If you bought a new car or moving your car to another state, apply for a title in your name. This requires bringing the following documents to your local DMV office:

  • Proof of identification, such as a driver’s license or passport 
  • Proof of ownership, e.g. bill of sale
  • Proof of insurance coverage that meets state-minimum requirements
  • Application for title
  • Applicable sales, tag, title, and registration fees

Title washing

Title washing is the act of obtaining an illegal title that hides details of a vehicle’s past. Or to put it another way, it refers to giving the car a better title than before, usually after the car has moved between states. State-by-state requirements for car titles can vary, and sometimes cars will be “title washed.”  Title washing is not only a shady business practice, it’s illegal. If you suspect your car dealer is doing this, stay away from their car.

Types of car titles

When buying a vehicle, it is important to know the different car title types. Having a knowledge of different used car titles can make the big difference between undeceive purchase and a big disappointment. The car title check is a part of every VIN search & vehicle history report.

Clear title

A clear title indicates that the vehicle has no credit or liens of any kind. Legally, the vehicle is the sole property of the owner and there are no vehicle disputes or debts with any third party. The clear title is the most ideal when looking for a used car.

Salvage title

The salvage title refers to the total loss of the vehicle that is declared as a total loss by the insurance company due to damage to the vehicle due to flood, hail, or other reasons. In most states, any vehicle damaged more than 75% of its total value will receive a salvage title. Vehicles in this condition are often referred to as “total loss”. In some states, it is illegal to drive salvage vehicles in public places, even if they are drivable. 

Dishonest dealers or sellers hide the salvaged car condition through title washing. They kept the vehicle in a lenient state that could issue a clean title as a branding.

Salvage title

Rebuilt title

The exact definition of a rebuilt title may vary from state to state, but generally, it refers to a car that has suffered significant damage, has been repaired and then road-tested, and will have rebuilt title (a car that had a salvage title at one point). The rebuilt title can be issued by an insurance company, authorized rebuilder, body shop, or collision center. It can be difficult to obtain full insurance coverage with a car that has rebuilt title.

Damaged title

“Damaged title” is often used interchangeably with “salvage title,” although usage may vary from state to state. A car with a damaged title is likely to be damaged by a natural disaster such as flooding, or be declared a total loss at some point. In a few states, cars damaged by water or caught in a flood are given the water damage branded title. With damaged titles, you should be as careful as you would with salvaged and rebuilt titles.

Junk title

A vehicle with a junk title has no value other than it can be recycled by selling parts or scrapping it. It’s supposed to be shredded or taken to a scrapyard. They are not safe to use on roads. In some states, junk titles are classified as salvage titles. Of course, if you’re looking for a used car for everyday use, avoid any car with a junk title.

Bonded title

Bonded title, also known as a “Certificate of title surety,” refers to a situation where the title to the vehicle is damaged or lost during the transfer process. As the title is now unavailable, ownership cannot be legally obtained nor transferred through any normal procedures. Therefore, the bonded title is settled using a surety bond. The vehicle will have a “bonded” stamp of 3 to 5 years, during this time the owner can go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain clean title to the vehicle.

Branded titles

The branded title indicates that the car has extensive damage such as an odometer problem, or a defect that caused the manufacturer to be bought it back. A car can have multiple branded titles. Salvage titles and rebuild titles are both fall under the branded titles.
The branded titles are handled in different ways from state to state. All potential title brands are issued by state DMVs against a title.
Generally, they fall into the following categories:

Odometer rollback title brand

  • Odometer rollback is the act of manipulating the odometer to make the car appear to have lower mileage. It convinces buyers that it’s worth more than its actual costs. Knowing the exact mileage is essential for safe driving. A car’s mileage affects its value, so an odometer reading is reported when the vehicle is registered.
Odometer rollback

Lemon title brand

A number of state laws allow customers to return new cars with major defects, mechanical problems, or warranty defects. Like all car title brands, every state has its own lemon law.
It’s important to note that the manufacturer is given a chance to repair the defect. If the vehicle’s problem is not solved even after attempts to repair it, the vehicle can be branded as lemon.
In addition, It is important to know the lemon law does apply to used cars, and the problems must have occurred during the warranty period.

Water damage brand

Water can damage the interior of a car, cause mold and mildew to grow, and damage the engine. In some states, cars damaged by water or caught in a flood are given the water damage brand title.
Car title check is part of every vehicle history report. Every used car needs to be inspected and documented before buying, but you need to be extra careful with salvage cars and flood-titled cars.

Hail damage title brand

The brand indicates that the vehicle suffered severe cosmetic damage from weather-induced hail. This type of damage is very common in many mid-western and Southern states, where tornadoes and hailstorms are common.

The following picture shows the few branded titles that are in use in different states.

Branded title checks by state

Car title check by VIN

The seller or car dealer may be withholding facts from you because they want to sell the vehicle as soon as possible. The online VIN Decoder service provides a full report of all registration changes if any.

If you wonder how to do a title search by VIN, you just need the 17 digit VIN code, simply enter the code on the search bar and get the detailed vehicle history report on the car title check in the shortest time possible. If you spend a few minutes on the car title lookup, you can save thousands of dollars and precious time from future repairs of the vehicle. 

If you don’t have the VIN, you can go ahead and run a license plate lookup tool to get the same report.