Rebuilt Title

What you need to know about the rebuilt title and vehicle branding.

Rebuilt Title


Rebuilt title is one of the numerous branded titles given to vehicles the value of which has been decreased for a number of reasons, such as accidents, water, fire or other types of damage, theft, odometer tampering, essential wear, specific types of previous use. In most cases, rebuilt title is given to total loss (usually salvage or junk) cars which were later repaired, reinspected at a State-authorized inspection station so as to meet all the structural and safety requirements, and finally recognized roadworthy and driveable. The market value of rebuilt title cars is considerably lower than that of vehicles with non-branded titles. Please note that vehicle title branding procedures, rebuilt title definition, requirements and specific terms differ depending on the State’s law. For example, in NJ a standard title with a “salvage” suffix is issued instead of a rebuilt title for rebuilt salvage vehicles. Other terms used instead of the “rebuilt” title are “reconstructed” or “revived”.

Is a rebuilt title bad?

A rebuilt title is certainly not as bad as a salvage title from value and operability viewpoints. However, not all vehicles of this type are good and not for everyone. A rebuilt car can be a very good deal, although there are many risks associated with buying it and you’ll have to consider and check out them all. Remember the most important thing: for the insurance company the concept “total loss” is primarily based not on the gravity of functional damage but how estimated repair costs compare with the current retail value of the car. Repair costs can run up really high with just scratches, dents, pecks, broken glass elements, tires, costly disks or trimming, etc., and total loss car may still be intact inside (for example, a hail damaged car). In some states, rebuilt title can be given to theft recovery vehicles, even if the vehicle wasn’t damaged at all. When weighing all pros and cons of rebuilt vehicles, much depends on the reputability and honesty of the dealer. Some dealers purchase only those salvaged vehicles that can be properly restored because the major parts, like engine, transmission, chassis, frame were not badly damaged or remain intact and airbags were not deployed (or they insert functioning airbags). Such vehicles may be more expensive to buy for both the dealer and the end user. However, the temptation to buy a dirt cheap junk, polish it a little bit, give it excellent looks, leave a lot of problems inside and sell at a good price is very strong and some dishonest dealers practice this. You should always keep in mind the following: rebuilt title vehicle is not a post-overhaul vehicle (some buyers make this mistake). Rebuilt title means that the vehicle has been salvaged, and a salvage title means that the cost of repairing that vehicle exceeded 75-100% of its market value. This means that a rebuilt car sold at a 50% price will never be the same as a normal counterpart (or someone was so kind as to fix a good fraction of the damage for free - maybe a Santa Claus?) Given that, you can only guess on the quality of repair. This is one of the major problems of rebuilt title vehicles: estimating their actual value, safety and operability can be pretty difficult. Another matter is that certain devaluing factors like cosmetic issues, age, wear, insurance and warranty limitations are not that important for certain buyers who need a car now at the lowest possible price and plan to keep it for a long time.

Rebuilt title and title-washing

Rebuilt TitleIdeally, rebuilt brand should remain on the vehicle’s title permanently as it is tied to its VIN number. However, in practice this principle frequently fails because there is no unified federal law to regulate vehicle title branding. As a result, every state has its own regulations regarding vehicle title branding and recognizing vehicles junk, repairable or roadworthy.

This divergence cleared the way for the so-called “title-washing” scam, which is widely used by dishonest dealers to overcharge used car buyers for low-value or even non-roadworthy junk cars. Sometimes the new state where the vehicle is being registered does not recognize the title issued in another state and gives and new, clean title to all newly registered vehicles, even though some states require that a vehicle pass a safety inspection. Another problem is that in different states the criteria for recognizing a vehicle “total loss” vary: a vehicle issued a ‘junk’ title in one jurisdiction, may be deemed repairable under another state’s jurisdiction.

That’s why pre-purchase VIN checks that help track the history of the vehicle across all the states are so important, even if the current vehicle title is clean. You need to know what title the vehicle has in every state it has been registered in (and there can be many of them!). A vehicle that has a rebuilt title certainly has a thorough background check.

Believe or not, but a previously salvaged car can receive a clean title not just due to deliberate title-washing. Sometimes DMV employees responsible for assigning titles….may forget to enter the corresponding code into the computer when registering a new vehicle, and voila - the title is clean! I also know a guy who had an opposite problem - his clean car had a rebuilt car title put by mistake into the database. He discovered it while filing and insurance claim…Fortunately, car history and inspection proved that it was actually clean.

What if I still want to buy a rebuilt title car?

So, what is Rebuilt Title?

The term rebuilt title is frequently misinterpreted, which prevents many used car buyers from making an informed purchasing decision and results is significant financial loss or even safety threat (if they buy the rebuilt vehicle) or missing out a great deal (if they don’t buy). This website is an attempt to explain and define rebuilt title as seen under different states’ law, and review all associated risks and benefits to potential used car buyers. We hope this information helps you helps you better understand rebuilt title, choose a used vehicle confidently and make a safe buying decision.