Friday, 07 May 2021 12:04

What Does it Mean to ‘Total’ a Vehicle?

Written by Gary Wickert, Claims Journal


...declared a total loss due to that damage at some point in its history. It could also be as simple as a vehicle which was stolen and not recovered in a specified period of time.


Often, it’s not clear who has to declare the vehicle a total loss---the insurance company or the state, as in Minnesota, which has a “total loss” definition. Therefore, what qualifies as a salvage vehicle varies from state to state, but often overlaps with a “total loss” label from either the state or an insurer.


Title-Washed Vehicles


Depending on the type and extent of damage, the salvage buyers will occasionally have these cars repaired and will then attempt to sell them as a running vehicle.


When insurance companies write off a vehicle as a “total loss”, the law in most states requires the vehicle’s title of ownership to be given a “brand.” That brand permanently marks the car as damaged goods to all potential future owners, but there are ways for unscrupulous dealers to make the brand disappear.


In the old days, it was literally done with chemicals. Today, photo-editing software and digital scanners are used to print new titles.


There are no national titling laws. Cars can also simply be re-registered in different states until the brand falls away. According to the vehicle history provider CarFax, 800,000 cars in the U.S.---including at least 500 taxis---have been “title washed” to conceal their troubled histories.


Whether or not a vehicle is required to have a “salvage title” issued varies from state to state. In a small number of states, a salvage title is required if a vehicle is stolen and not recovered within 21 days.

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma and Oregon use salvage titles to identify stolen vehicles.


Not all total loss vehicles result in a DMV-reported branded title, however. For example...