MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - I learned years ago from my buddy Chris Basso of the vehicle history report company Carfax and from the late National Insurance Crime Bureau investigator Tom Zimmer that the Mid-South is a hot-bed for car title fraud. Lax state laws and the fact that Memphis is the nation's distribution center make our area a dumping ground for rebuilt vehicles. Basso was the one who first introduced the term to me: title-washing.
"Where they are removing a salvage brand that has been issued by another state, moving them to the state of Tennessee and handing them a 'clean' title," Basso said.
"They can buy it in one state, take it to another state and rebuild it, take it to a third state and get a clean title," Zimmer said.
When you shop a used car, either from a private owner or from a dealer, always request to see the title before you negotiate or take a test-drive. The law allows you to view any vehicle's title by request. If there's a salvage brand on the vehicle, it should be clearly disclosed as "salvaged" or "rebuilt" on the title. Some states issue an actual salvage title instead of a regular title, typically in a different color. For example, in Tennessee, a regular title is green while a salvage title is blue.
You can also request the dealer run a Carfax report at the dealer's expense, or you can order your own Carfax report if you have the vehicle identification number (VIN). That number is located both on the dashboard under the windshield and on the driver's side door. Other title history resources included AutoCheck and the federal government's VehicleHistory.gov.
Alright, those are your resources. Now for some cool stuff!
Zimmer taught me some tricks you can use with everyday gadgets to determine a used vehicle may be salvaged or rebuilt:
* DOLLAR BILL. A rebuilt vehicle's doors often don't seal shut. Zimmer taught me if you can shut the door on a dollar bill and pull the bill out without any resistance, then the car has been wrecked and rebuilt. There will also be wind noise when you test drive the vehicle.
* REFRIGERATOR MAGNET. Bring one with you to the used car lot or to the seller's home. Place it on the body of the vehicle, all around the vehicle. If it doesn't stick anywhere on the vehicle's body, chances are the car was wrecked and rebuilt with plastic body filler and multiple coats of paint.
* MISMATCHED COLOR CHECK. Open the hood. Check the color of the metal under the hood and around the engine compartment to see if it matches the body's color. Look for evidence of over-spray from a lazy paint job.