It may be possible to turn a rebuilt title to a clean title. However, converting a rebuilt title certificate to a clean title can be a lengthy process, and is usually legally frowned upon in every state.
In the US, generally, when you buy a car, whether it is new or used, you need to deal with various paperwork. One important document is the title certificate, which legally proves your ownership of the car. Apart from showing ownership, the title also records previous owners and their actions with the car. This leads to the discussion of rebuilt and clean titles.
Therefore, the rebuilt title brand on your title simply denotes that the vehicle has undergone rebuilding, reconstruction, or repair following an insurance company’s total loss determination. But can you change this rebuilt brand so that you can increase the value of your vehicle sales? Let’s get into this. But first, let’s understand the meaning of rebuilt and clean titles.
What Does a Clean Title Mean on a Vehicle?
A clean title is a certificate given by the Department of Motor Vehicles or relevant authorities in a state to show that a car has never been declared a total loss. The titles of cars that have been totaled are labeled “salvage” until they are rebuilt.
Nevertheless, a clean title does not guarantee that a car is in perfect condition. It might still have some of the issues described below:
- Mechanical Issues
- Can lead to problems with the car’s engine or transmission.
- These issues often go unnoticed by insurance companies.
- Potential buyers might unknowingly purchase a flawed car.
- Technician Errors
- Technicians might not always understand the root of a problem.
- Some car owners pay technicians to superficially fix issues to keep insurance costs low.
- These superficial fixes might not be reflected in the final reports.
- Reconstructive Solutions
- If damage is too costly to repair, insurance may suggest reconstructive measures.
- The goal is to clear the car’s title, even if underlying issues remain.
Now you understand what a clean title means in simple terms. Let’s move on to the rebuilt counterpart.
What Does a Rebuilt Title Mean for a Car?
A rebuilt title on a car means that the car was once considered a total loss but has been rebuilt, reconstructed, or repaired, and declared safe to use on public roads by the DMV. Additionally, it is a legal requirement for sellers in every state to inform potential buyers of the title status.
In auto insurance, “totaled” means the car had such severe damage that the repair cost is uneconomical. Insurance companies are interested in numbers and try to make as much money as they possibly can. So, if they consider that totaling a car is more profitable, they do just that.
If an affected car is still available for sale, it is because someone put in the effort to fix it up and make it work again. Usually, cars with branded titles such as rebuilt (or their worse counterpart, “salvage”) are priced lower to attract bargain hunters.
Can You Drive a Car with Rebuilt Title?
Yes, you can drive a car with a rebuilt title. After a particular car has passed all necessary inspections, including the smog test, the state issues a rebuilt title. So, if you are in possession of a rebuilt title car, then it means that the previous owner likely had the car inspected before selling it. In cases where you buy a rebuilt title car from another state, you may not require inspection again in some states.
So, you may feel good about it. But I generally recommend calling your local titling agency to find out whether you need to reinspect the vehicle or not. If yes, that might be a problem, as you might have to spend so much more to pass the inspection. State DMVs only have problems with salvage title cars, as these cannot be legally operated on public roads.
Can You Remove a Rebuilt Title?
Legally, a rebuilt title cannot be removed from a car in any state. Removing it will mean concealing the status of the vehicle, which is against the law.
Thus, you cannot just turn a rebuilt title to a clean title. But, you can get a different title, such as an assembled, reconstructed, or reconditioned title. Again, the idea is that changing a title to hide a car’s history is illegal and called title washing or title laundering.
Before trying to title a rebuilt car, make sure to understand your state’s rules for registration and titling.
Fixing the car and having it checked at your state’s DMV cannot change its rebuilt title to a clean one. You do not also require another inspection for a clean title after you get a rebuilt title. Instead, your best bet will be to switch to a state that offers a title brand that reads “Reconstructed”. An example is Oregon.
How to Turn a Rebuilt Title to a Clean Title
At this point, you would have done what is needed, such as having your car checked and filling out the forms to change your car title. If you have not already, follow these steps to get a rebuilt title. Also included is the method some people use to turn a rebuilt title to a clean title.
1. Repair the Salvage Car
For rebuilding your car, it’s best to have a licensed mechanic do the maintenance and repairs, unless you’re qualified. Also, remember to keep a record of the work you’ve done and take lots of pictures. Some states only allow licensed rebuilders to repair a salvage car back to operable condition, so check with your state.
2. Schedule a DMV Inspection for Your Vehicle
Since you have probably not obtained a rebuilt title yet, you need to get the car to the DMV or the relevant title agency in your state. You will need to submit proof of the rebuilding process, the bill of sale, and any related pictures or documents. Once they have these, set up an inspection appointment with the DMV. Remember, you can’t drive the car with a rebuilt title; you must tow it to an inspection facility.
3. Get the Rebuilt Title
Once your car passes inspection and is safe to drive, apply for a rebuilt title. Fill out the required forms from your DMV and show proof of the inspection at your state’s title office. The new title is “Rebuilt” or “Rebuilt Salvaged”. Remember, you can only apply for it after your rebuilt car is fixed and inspected.
- Some states require a car that has been written off to pass an inspection to get the title, but it might still say “Rebuilt Salvage”.
- In Texas, a vehicle with a salvage title will always retain that title, even if repaired to new condition.
4. Title Washing is the Way Out
In basic terms, title washing involves registering a car with a salvage title in a different state that might issue a clean title, then re-registering it in the original state with the new title.
One of the main reasons for title washing is that the codes for title status are not consistent across all states. As a result, when a car is moved from one state to another, it might obtain a “clean” title instead of its previous “rebuilt” status. Some people or entities intentionally exploit this inconsistency to turn a rebuilt title to a clean title and increase a car’s value.
There’s a system called NMVTIS (National Motor Vehicle Title Information System) that tracks vehicle titles. If a car has a non-repairable brand in Texas, it should not be registered with a “clean” title in another state. However, if the other state does not participate in NMVTIS, they might not be aware of the previous title brand. Some states provide data to NMVTIS but do not check it before issuing a new title. Examples include California, Idaho, North Carolina, Maryland, and Massachusetts.
5. Turn a Rebuilt Title to a Clean Title with Fake Title
Sometimes, people take extreme measures, such as faking their title to sell an illegitimate vehicle. This works by making fake papers that say a car is all good or that no one else has a claim on it. They want to make it seem like the car was never damaged or that no one else has a right to it. In the end, both methods aim to hide a car’s true history.
The “washing” process helps a curbstoner remove bad branding such as “salvaged” or “rebuilt” from a car title. Then, they sell these unsafe and not very valuable cars to people who don’t know any better, charging them more than the cars are really worth.
What States Allow Title Washing?
As of 2023, all states are not part of the NMVTIS, so we can say that no state directly allows title washing. Participating states are able to share a car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to create a database with accurate information about a car’s history. This helps fight vehicle fraud. States now use the platform to give out new titles.
*Note that title washing is a federal crime.