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What is a Branded Title?

Jason Metz

A branded title is a specific designation made on a car's title history that can show if a car has been previously damaged or may be unsafe to drive. For example, a car that was damaged in a flood or hail storm or totaled in a collision might receive a "brand" on its title. A title brand is important because some auto insurance companies will not insure vehicles with certain types of branded titles, such as a salvage title.

Branded title cars: Types of titles

State agencies decide what types of branded titles will be used in the state. The exact definition of the brands can vary among states. For example, a car that gets a "junk" title in one state may not get it in a different state. Here are some common branded title types.

Flood damage/water damage branded title

If problem such as a flood or heavy rain damages a vehicle, it may get branded for having water damage.

Hail damage branded title

If a car was previously damaged in a hail storm and the owner made a claim, an insurance company or state department of motor vehicles may report the claim and, depending on the state, the car could receive a hail damage branded title.

States that issue hail damage titles include Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming, according to Carfax, a service that sells vehicle history reports. Washington, D.C., also issues hail damage titles.

Junk branded title

A "junk" designation typically means the vehicle is not safe to drive and can only be sold for parts or scrap. Other names for this title might include non-repairable, scrapped or destroyed.

Lemon title

Lemon laws vary from state to state and are generally in place to help protect buyers who purchase new cars that have serious defects. Typically, if a buyer discovers defects, they may have the option to return the vehicle for a refund under a state's "lemon law." If a car was returned because it's a lemon, it may receive a lemon branded title. This might also be branded as "manufacturer buy back."

Odometer rollback branded title

This title brand indicates a car's odometer has been altered to appear to have lower miles than have actually been driven, which is odometer fraud. Odometer fraud is a federal crime and if a state titling agency has reason to believe a car's odometer has been rolled back, the vehicle could receive this title brand.

Rebuilt branded title

When a vehicle gets a salvage title and is then rebuilt and repaired, it typically must be inspected by a state agency. In most states, if the vehicle is found to be safe to drive, it may then be issued a rebuilt title. This brand will remain permanently on the vehicle's title history.

Salvage branded title

A salvage title is typically issued when the cost to repair a vehicle exceeds a certain percentage of the vehicle's value. Many states define the threshold for these "totaled cars." For example, if repair costs exceed 75% of the car's value, some states will consider it a total loss.

A vehicle may be a total loss for a variety of reasons, including stolen vehicles that were recovered but severely damaged, or vehicles with crash or water damage.

Vehicle usage branded title

If a vehicle was previously used as a police vehicle or taxi, it might be branded to reflect this prior use.

How do I find out if a car has a branded title?

A vehicle history report, also known as a VIN check, can often help you determine if a car has a branded title. VIN is short for "vehicle identification number." You can usually find the VIN on a car's windshield, on the driver's side door and on paperwork such as the car's title or auto insurance policy.

A vehicle history report can reveal a vehicle's title brand history and other issues such as:

  • The current state of the title and last title date.
  • Accident history.
  • Flood damage.
  • Frame or structural damage.
  • Lien history.
  • Major repair and maintenance history.
  • Odometer readings.
  • Open vehicle recalls.
  • Ownership transfers.
  • Registration records, including the city and state where the vehicle was registered.
  • Salvage history.
  • Whether it had been reported stolen..
  • If the vehicle was deemed a total loss.
  • If the vehicle was used as a police vehicle, taxi, rental car or leased.

Services that offer vehicle-history reports typically rely on insurance companies and state titling agencies for data. They can also get data from sources such as:

  • Auto auctions.
  • Auto recyclers.
  • Car dealerships.
  • Collision repair facilities.
  • Extended warranty companies.
  • Fire departments.
  • Law enforcement agencies.
  • Rental/fleet vehicle companies.
  • Salvage yards.
  • State vehicle-inspection stations.

Some services sell vehicle history reports for a fee, such as Carfax and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), which is backed by the U.S. Department of Justice. It's important to keep in mind that the report may not have the full history of the vehicle. For example, if a vehicle was damaged and the previous owner did not report the damage and repaired the vehicle themselves, that incident would most likely not appear in the report.

Can I get auto insurance for a vehicle with a branded title?

Your ability to buy insurance on a vehicle with a title brand depends on what type of brand it has. If a vehicle has a brand that indicates it's not safe to drive, such as a salvage title, you may not be able to register it or get it insured. Some insurance companies might only offer limited coverage types on certain title brands. For example, some companies will not offer collision insurance for vehicle with a rebuilt title. It's a good idea to check with your insurance company before buying a branded-title car.

What is title washing?

Title washing is when a vehicle's title is altered to exclude information it should have. One method of title washing is to physically alter the paper title to remove mention of a title brand. Another method is to move the car to a different state, apply for a new title and fail to disclose a title brand.

Comparing a vehicle's title with a vehicle history report can help identify differences and potential title washing, although it's not a guarantee that the title is correct.