I recently tweeted about dealership under investigation by the West Virginia State Police for car titling issues. I currently represent a client in a lawsuit against the same dealership for allegations that the dealership failed to disclose that the car it sold to her had a salvage title.
Cars with salvage title are worth a fraction of the value of a vehicle with clean title and can have dangerous unrepaired or poorly repaired damage. It can be legal to sell cars with salvage title, but the salvage title must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the buyer. This must be an actual disclosure, and not something buried in fine print. A statement that a car "may" have a salvage title or "may" have been declared a total loss is not adequate disclosure. With language that a vehicle "may" have a salvage title, a salesperson will tell the purchaser not to worry about it because it is in all contracts, or make some other misleading statement. There is no "may have" about salvage title. A vehicle either has a salvage title or it does not.
When confronted about a salvage title, dealerships often say that they had no idea. This is simply not true. A dealership always has easy access to the title history on a vehicle and should not be selling a car unless they know it has clean title. Never believe a dealership that tries to cover up its deception by telling you it did not know about salvage title. The dealership has a duty to know a vehicle's title history before putting it up for sale.
Dealerships have ways of trying to try to hide a salvage title. The most frequent trick to hide salvage title is by title washing. Title washing happens when a vehicle is sent out of state to be titled and then brought back into the first state or sent to a third state to be sold. It takes time for the title brand to be reported to the other states, so the title brand usually does not show up until after it has been fraudulently sold to an unsuspecting consumer. Even if the salvage brand is not showing on the vehicle at the time it is sold and is reported on the title later, the dealership is still not off the hook. The dealership most likely had actual knowledge that the vehicle it sold had a salvage brand in the title history. If the dealership tells you it did not know about salvage title, do not believe them.
How can you protect yourself against an unscrupulous dealership selling vehicles with salvage title? While it does not provide 100% protection, a Carfax report or other title history report will usually disclose a salvage title. If the dealership advertises that it will give you a free Carfax on every vehicle and you do not get that Carfax before you sign the paperwork, walk away from the deal. I receive many calls from consumers on salvage title vehicles who were told by dealership that they could not get a Carfax before the vehicle was sold because a printer or computer was down or some other ridiculous excuse. Dealerships also will promise to send a copy of the Carfax in the mail. If the dealership does eventually send a Carfax, which they rarely do, disclosure of salvage title after the sale is too late. A dealership is not obligated to give you a Carfax, but if they advertise that they provide a Carfax on every vehicle and do not give it to you before the sale, that is red flag that there are problems with that vehicle.
What if you end up with a vehicle with salvage title? If the dealership did not clearly disclose the salvage title to you, demand all of your money back from the dealership or a trade of your choosing of equal value to what you paid. If the dealership does not immediately make you whole, call my firm at 800-745-5259 or email us now. I have helped many consumers get their money back for vehicles with salvage title and other serious car problems.