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CAR - DMV VIN Check VIN number - Avoid Dealer Scam Car Title Washing, Curbstoning

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Used Car History - Vehicle History Report > AutoCheck Vehicle History Report > Avoid car dealer scams

Car Dealer Scam

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The following are tips on how AutoCheck vehicle history report can be used to detect used car dealer scams. There are many type of scams on the used cars sales.

Used car dealer scams - Consumers should not trust used car dealers, no matter how big the dealership is.The warning Caveat Emptor - "Let the buyer beware!" - still applies here. Many used car dealership sells auction cars which has shady history (salvage, wrecked, or lemon). Some used car dealerships are in the business of rebuilding wrecked, flood damage or salvage cars and sell them as a clean title car. There are millions of cars damaged by recent natural disaster (i.e, flood) in many states. These cars are sold again to market by certain used car dealers.

Title washing - Vehicle title washing occurs when vehicle rebuilders patch together severely damaged and salvaged vehicles in one state, and then move to another state to obtain clear and clean title that gives a buyer no clue of the vehicle's past damage. Often, the rebuilt vehicles have significant defects that bring buyers problems, expenses, and safety risks.

Vehicle title washing sounds a little like a car wash but, in this case, the consumer gets soaked. With over 45 million used cars and trucks sold in 2002, it's perhaps not surprising that a number of those vehicles come fully equipped—equipped with headaches from the merely cosmetic to those threatening safety. These questions and answers can steer you through the title washing track.

In 1998, 2.5 million U.S. vehicles were so badly damaged that they were declared a total loss, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Of these, approximately 40% were rebuilt and put back on the road. Women, minorities, recent immigrants, and teenagers buying their first cars are common targets of unscrupulous vehicle sellers.

How does vehicle title washing affect consumers?
There are numerous cases, but here are some examples:

  • A California college student purchased a car from a major franchised dealer who maintained that the vehicle was "certified" and had passed a "100-point inspection." The buyer began experiencing problems immediately after purchase. First, the steering rack had to be replaced. Then, she discovered the frame was bent, which made the vehicle unsafe and unstable. The tires wore unevenly. The trunk leaked. The buyer had the car inspected by an independent repair shop and learned that the vehicle had been involved in a serious wreck. When the car was rebuilt, the workmanship was so poor that it rendered the vehicle unstable. The buyer confronted the dealer, who refused to take the car back. She hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit to get out of the deal.
  • A Chicago-area businesswoman bought a car from what she thought was a reputable dealer, but later learned that the car had been rebuilt after a wreck. A mechanic found the engine was not properly lined up in the chassis and that parts of the car had been welded together where bolts normally are used. During a four-year-long court suit, the woman's attorneys learned that the wrecked car had been purchased by an out-of-state backyard mechanic who had tried to fix it up and then sold it to a repair shop in another state—where a couple purchased it and later traded it in.
  • A 73-year-old Northern California woman was awarded $100,000 in punitive damages in a lawsuit accusing a dealer of selling her and her late husband a used car without disclosing that it had been in a crash.

Who has laws against title washing, and is any legislation pending?
California, Michigan, and Iowa have tough consumer protection laws prescribing when a vehicle's title must be branded as salvage or nonrepairable—but other states are less protective. Unscrupulous individuals take advantage of this lack of uniformity and move wrecked vehicles to states having low or no standards in vehicle retitling. In this way, they are able to wipe out the vehicle's damage history.

Nationally, both Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.) have sponsored bills supporting a uniform national standard for dealing with wrecked and salvaged vehicles. Lott's bill would classify as "salvage" a vehicle that sustains damage exceeding 75% of its preaccident value, but would permit states to enact lower percentages. It also would require warning labels on rebuilt salvage vehicles. Feinstein's bill goes further—requiring the word "salvage" to be stamped on the title of any vehicle with damage exceeding 65% of its preaccident value. It also would require owners to disclose any damage exceeding $3,000, unless the damage was entirely cosmetic.

How do I know if a car has been title-washed?
In some cases, you may not be able to know for sure—but here are some measures you can take:

Check the title to see if the car is an out-of-state vehicle. Does it say "salvaged"? If the title doesn't say the car is salvaged then:

  • Check to see if the paint on the outside of the car matches the paint inside the door frame.
  • Make sure that the parts of the car line up with each other—and that the gaps between the doors and around the hood and trunk are straight and even.
  • Have a mechanic check underneath for evidence of welding of the frame or unibody.
  • Look for evidence of flood damage. Check under the mat for mud or dirt. Look for watermarks on the inside of the doors, and for moisture inside the trunk and under the seats.

What steps can I take to protect myself?
Before making a down payment on a used car:

  1. Get the car's vehicle identification number (VIN). Every vehicle manufactured since 1981 has a 17-character VIN that identifies the year, make, model, body style, engine size, restraint system, and place of manufacture.
  2. AutoCheck offers vehicle title histories on cars consumers plan to buy or sell. A free Vin Check report is available when you enter your VIN.
  3. At the car lot, ask to see a copy of the dealer's warranty before you buy. There may be none.
  4. Ask for the car's maintenance record from the owner, dealer, or repair shop.
  5. Ask to take the car to an independent garage or mechanic for an unbiased third-party inspection before buying.

Curbstoning - A curbstoner is a person who purchases vehicles at volumes that require a dealer license and then poses as a private seller to sell to unsuspecting buyers for a large profit. Curbstoning is illegal in most States. AutoCheck analyzes a vehicle's history for specific events to determine if a vehicle is potentially at risk for curbstoning. For instance, a vehicle that has been sold at auction but not issued a new title during a given period of time. Please read the AutoCheck Curbstoning Tips for other ways to identify a potential curbstoner.

AutoCheck Terms

VIN: The Vehicle ID Number (VIN) can be found on dashboards and title documents. All cars and light trucks built after 1981 have a unique 17-character VIN that contains valuable information about that vehicle's history.

Shopping Tip: To check used vehicles while you shop, be sure to ask the dealer/seller for the VINs.


Check Car Title

Salvaged? Lemon? Flooded? Rebuilt?

Salvage File
A full AutoCheck Vehicle History Report can uncover if this vehicle was damaged in a major accident or wreck. These damaged cars are often sold to buyers without disclosing the problem past.

Lemon File
Many states across the country have Lemon Laws to protect consumers from buying a bad car. A full AutoCheck Vehicle History Report can help you avoid these problem cars.

Flood File
Flood damaged cars are often moved to other states and sold to unsuspecting buyers. Don’t get caught buying one of these waterlogged vehicles - order a full AutoCheck Vehicle History Report.

Rebuilt/Reconstructed Title
The vehicle sustained damage and was rebuilt or reconstructed, then placed back on the road.


Fraud? Rolled Over? Rolled Back? Broken?

Odometer File
Odometer rollback fraud costs car buyers thousands. A full AutoCheck Vehicle History Report can identify potential odometer fraud before you purchase.

Not Actual Mileage File
Is the odometer showing the actual mileage? Odometers often malfunction and no longer record the proper mileage reading. Learn the true mileage of the vehicle by ordering a full AutoCheck Vehicle History Report.


Accident File
Major accident damage severely affects the safety and resale value of a vehicle. Don't make a costly mistake - order a full AutoCheck Vehicle History Report to avoid buying a rebuilt wreck.

Salvage Auction Record
Vehicles classified as "totaled" by insurance companies are often sold at auction to be reconstructed and put back on the road.

Fire Damage
AutoCheck receives information on vehicle fires from most US jurisdictions. These events are usually not the result of an accident and are taken from the actual fire department reports compiled at the scene.

Stolen Vehicle Record
Law enforcement officials have notified other government agencies that an owner has reported a vehicle missing. This vehicle may have since been legitimately recovered.


Vehicle was registered but not owned by the driver

Rental Car File
Rental cars are driven by many people under various driving conditions. A full AutoCheck Vehicle History Report will uncover a vehicle's rental car history.

Vehicle registered as a taxi, "for hire" or law enforcement vehicle.

Fleet Vehicle
Vehicle was registered or sold to a company that manages vehicle fleets.


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