What Does Clean Title Mean When Buying a Pre-Used Car?

What does clean title mean is a typical question from someone trying to buy a used car. Many intending drivers do not understand what a car’s title means or how it affects its quality.

What Does Clean Title Mean ~ Ran When Parked

They are probably just heeding a friend’s advice that informs them to buy a car with a clean title. Let’s take a more detailed look into what title brands of cars mean.

What Does a Car With a Clean Title Mean?

A car with a clean title means that the vehicle has no financial impediment or burden. It is crucial that everyone looking to buy a pre-used car validate the vehicle’s title to ensure it is clean. This will prevent you from overpaying for a lesser-value car.

A clean title indicates that the car is not inquiring about any loss by an insurance company or the state. This also suggests the car’s condition, as it often shows that the vehicle hasn’t been involved in any significant accident or extensive repairs that may cost more than its value.

It also means that the current owner (seller) owns the full rights of the car, with no outstanding loan or liens. Therefore, they have the legal right to sell it, being their property.

Ensuring a car has a clean title is crucial if you’re looking to buy a used car. Besides not sustaining extensive damage, clean car titles may also indicate that the vehicle still has its original parts from the manufacturers.

The car has not been reconstructed, refurbished, or rebuilt. Therefore, it may give car buyers insight that the vehicle they are getting is still in optimum condition.

What Are the Features of a Clean Title?

The features of a clean title consist of the manufacturer’s information, such as the make, model, year the car was created, and the owner’s information. It is a legal document that shows the car’s legal owner, including other necessary information regarding the vehicle.

What Are the Features of a Clean Title_ ~ Ran When Parked

The title of a car also includes:

  • The vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • The driver’s license of the owner
  • The issued license plate of the vehicle
  • It consists of the loan and accident history of the car
  • It may also include technical info specific to the car, like its weight, color, etc.

How To Know a Car Has a Clean Title?

Knowing if a car has a clean title may be challenging. The first thing to do is to properly examine the vehicle to ensure it has a clear title. You must inspect if the title is clean, rebranded, or washed to prevent falling victim to fraudulent car sellers.

How To Know a Car Has a Clean Title_ ~ Ran When Parked

These scammers may create or forge titles with fake liens documents to deceive buyers into overpaying for a rebuilt car. You may need to consult a mechanic to check the pre-owned car to validate its title.

You can also check the car’s accident history to verify its title. You can do this by running the vehicle VIN through the VINCheck or CARFAX.

What Are the Other Types of Title Brands?

The other types of title brands are salvage, flood, lemon, junk, and rebuilt. Generally, when a car experiences severe damage, as in an accident, the state or car insurance companies under which the vehicle is registered will give it a branded title.

Below is a more detailed overview of the different car brand titles.

Salvage Title

The salvage title is the brand every car buyer should avoid. It’s a direct opposite of the clear title. A salvage car has been declared a total loss; that is a totaled car. Usually, such vehicles were involved in a severe accident.

Salvage Title ~ Ran When Parked

Even if it is repairable, the state or an insurance company still considers it a total loss. A car is declared a total loss when the repair cost is at least 50 percent of the actual car value, regardless of its current state. Driving a totaled car is illegal in some states, often because they are unsafe, and operating them is pretty challenging.

In addition, such vehicles tend not to attract any significant insurance; the more reason to avoid buying one! However, upon considerable repair, it earns the tag rebuilt car!

Rebuilt Title

A car with a rebuilt title, also reconstructed or refurbished, was formerly salvaged but has undergone significant repairs. Unlike a salvaged car, a rebuilt one can attract insurance and is relatively safe to drive after it has passed a safety inspection issued by the state.

However, this revived vehicle has a lower value than one with a clear one that still has all its original components in place. Even though a reconstructed car is safe and operable, a clean-titled vehicle is more reliable, considering it has all its original members.

However, it is more expensive, so you may go for the rebuilt variant if you are short on funds.

Lemon Title

Cars with the lemon title have undergone several repairs, not necessarily rebuilding or reconstruction. Another essential feature of the Lemon brand is that this vehicle must have been out of operation for at least a month.

Lemon Title ~ Ran When Parked

Cars with this tag are problematic, and the owners are likely tired of them. For example, a particular owner has tried fixing the transmission issue several times, yet the transmission or gear problem persists. Such a car is given the Lemon brand title.

Junk Title

Vehicles with this title may be mistaken for salvage. In fact, some may refer to a junk car as being totaled.  However, there is a clear distinction: a junk car is damaged beyond repair; it’s more or less scrap, sometimes crushed or dismantled.

Since they are irreparable, these cars have no significant resale value. Consequently, the owners may just sell any of the parts that still have value or sell the entire vehicle as scrap.

Flood Title

As the name suggests, this title brand is for a car damaged by flood or immersed underwater, affecting crucial components like the engine. This vehicle may not be a total loss, even after the flood. However, the effects of the flood on such cars tend to leave long-lasting consequences on the overall vehicle function.

Flood Title ~ Ran When Parked

Besides these titles we discussed here, some other damages can alter the car junction, rendering it into a salvage. A typical example is a car that suffered hail damage, which is often also costly to fix. Moreover, there are cases where a car earns a salvage brand even without any significant damage.

A typical example is in the case of a stolen vehicle that the owner has claimed its insurance. The insurance company can tag such cars as salvage upon recovering them. In addition, you should note that these branded titles may differ from state to state.

Therefore, in your interest, you should check for your state’s specific car branding title at your local DMV.

What Distinguishes a Clean Title From a Rebuilt Title?

What distinguishes a clean title from a rebuilt title car is the value. As the name suggests, a car with a revived title has undergone severe repairs, rebuilding, and reconstruction. The vehicle has already changed significantly from what the manufacturer created.

On the other hand, as we have reiterated, clean title vehicles are yet to undergo such significant repair. Therefore, a clear title car has more value than a rebuilt or refurbished one. As mentioned earlier, a rebuilt car is usually a salvaged car, reconstructed to make it seem still in optimum condition.

Again, validating the title of the car you are purchasing is important so you don’t overpay for a rebuilt one, thinking it has a clear title. Also, this will prevent you from falling victim to fraudulent car sellers.

How Does Title Washing Relate to Clean Title?

Title washing relates to clean title because it is a fraudulent activity used to forge clean titles for salvage and reconstructed cars, intending to sell them as one with a clean title. Title washing hides the actual title of the car to get buyers to overpay for the vehicle.

One effective method these fraudulent car sellers use to wash a car title is to take the car to a state like Texas, with a more relaxed law on title branding. So, they re-register the vehicle as clean and can now return the salvage or revived car to a state with more strict laws like Florida to sell.

Another method these fraudulent car sellers use to wash a car’s title is to forge the documents and create fake liens or new titles for the car. You must carefully check the title of the vehicle you intend to buy to avoid over-valuing the vehicle. This will prevent you from incurring losses.

What Factors Can Prevent a Car From Having a Clean Title?

Factors that prevent a car from having a clear title include accidents that follow extensive car repair. Other factors that can prevent a vehicle from having a clean title include flood, fire, hail or ice damage, fallen trees, or other items.

All these factors can severely damage a vehicle, causing it to incur severe loss through car insurance and losing the clean title tag. Therefore, you should try your best to avoid them if you’re looking to sell your car at a good price.

Can a Car With an Accident History Have a Clean Title?

Yes, a car with an accident history can have a clean title. Automobiles previously in an accident or with previous mechanical issues can still have a clean title if they only sustain damages requiring minor repairs. It could retain a clean title if the vehicle didn’t incur severe repair costs.

This is why car owners who resell their cars must follow good maintenance practices, taking optimum care of the vehicle to keep its clean title. This also applies to driving safely and adhering to all traffic regulations to reduce the chances of being in an accident.


Reading this article up to this point, you already understand the different title modes accompanying each pre-owned car. Let’s make a summary of all we discussed in this piece.

  • A clean (or clear) title is a car free from financial burdens or impediments. It has no significant repair or damage to the engine or other essential components.
  • Factors that prevent a car from having a clean title brand include severe accidents, floods, hail damage, theft, etc.
  • Besides the clear title, a pre-owned vehicle may have other title brands. This includes the flood, salvage, rebuilt, lemon, or junk title. All those brands have specific meaning as it relates to the vehicle.
  • Title washing refers to a form of fraud that car sellers engage in to switch the original title of a car, often a salvage, rebuilt, or lemon, to a clean title. This action is often done to sell a cheap car for a more expensive price.
  • The components of a typical car title include the VIN, the vehicle make and model, the manufacturing year, the owner’s data, and the license plate. It also includes the accident and loan history of the vehicle.

When buying a pre-used car, it’s best to carefully inspect the vehicle or go with an expert who can help you verify the title brand. This way, you will avoid overpaying and incurring significant losses.

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