Did you know you could be driving a used car that has been totaled and pieced back together?
Mississippi is one of the few states left that allows salvaged vehicles titles to be washed clean, concealing the truth that they were totaled.
I found out nothing has changed since my last report on the "Legal Business of Title Washing" 5 years ago.
Title washing hides the history of a vehicle that's been written off as a total loss or salvaged.
One Mississippian found out the hard way.
According to John Rose in 2006, "I saw an ad in the paper."
Rose purchased the vehicle without an inspection from an individual.
Rose was then stuck with a salvaged vehicle totaled out by an insurance company but soon back on the road as a perfectly good vehicle.
"Once they put it on the rack, they could see underneath," Rose said. "The frame damage. Basically put back together and stuff like that? "Correct." How did you feel about that. Upset."
This is happening to others.
"And it shouldn't that should not be allowed," Rose said.
Rose had recourse, the person who sold his car had a dealers license and they were forced by the Attorney General to refund his money.
Rose was lucky according to Clinton Body Shop owner John Mosley who has seen hundreds of wreck vehicles and victims.
We asked him this question. "And what they thought they bought was a nice clean used car but turns out to be what?"
"Turns out to be a nightmare, an accident waiting to happen in most cases," Mosley said.
Many say this is akin to fraud.
"That's exactly what it is," Mosley said. "It's fraud and like I said the unfortunate thing is our state is that there are no laws to protect the consumer with another consumer."
Want to make a bunch of money off a totaled car? Just take any of 9 offices set up by the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
That's where titles can be issued with or without the word "rebuilt."
This costs $75 and a cursory inspection by the Mississippi Bureau of Inspections looking for stolen parts and bingo, you have a clean title with no hint of previous wrecks or flooding.
In fact we discovered nearly 17,000 vehicle titles had been washed in from 2004-2006.
The problem is there are no laws, so who's responsible?
All roads lead straight to the State Capitol.
Year after year a bill protecting consumers from wrecks and flooded out cars was killed in committee.
Attorney General Jim Hood has pushed for legislation outlawing what some call a scam on consumers since 2005.
"Next legislative session I will introduce it and call you," Attorney General Hood said. "What we are doing right now bring folks attention to it? Next year we will get this passed."
Mississippi is one of a few states left in the nation that allows concealing wrecked, rebuilt, flooded and salvaged cars.
"It's a national issue," Attorney General said. "You've got one state that's allowing people to put vehicles on the market that have been preciously salvaged without any indication on the title. You are endangering consumers, Mississippians and those out of state."
And there is alot of money to be made off these damaged vehicles.
Since the salvage branding is eliminated, the car's value goes up and it's a lot easier to sell.
You can see why so many car owners might be motivated to "wash" their titles.
We wanted to know just how many titles have been washed clean by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations.
Here are the numbers we received from the state agency Monday.
In the past year alone, MBI did 7,506 salvage inspections and stamped all of the vehicles with a clean title.
1231 salvage inspections were stamped with rebuilt on the title of vehicles statewide.
If you want to push for legislation outlawing this deceptive practice call your Senator and Representatives in Congress and here in the state.
You can support passage of a bill entitled "Passenger Vehicle Loss Disclosure Act of 2011".
This bill was introduced in the United States Senate by Mr. Ensign on March 1, 2011.
It was read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
House Bill #485 was introduced in the Mississippi Legislature during the regular session of 2011 by Representative Bobby Moak.
It was designed to revise the application for certificate of title and the procedure by which title is obtained on a vehicle with a Salvage Certificate of Title for the purposes of clarification.
Our investigation found in surrounding states.
Alabama: Once a salvage title has been issued, you cannot legally drive your vehicle on Alabama highways or have a valid license plate. You can sell it for parts or to be restored. You can rebuilt it yourself, obtain a rebuilt title, an drive it legally once again. If you decide to keep the car and rebuilt it, you most obtain a rebuilder's license and rebuilt/restore the vehicle to its prior condition.
Louisiana: Whether or not you want to repair your vehicle, once your insurance company has deemed it a total loss and an insurance settlement has been made in Louisiana, you, your insurance company, or an authorized agent must apply for a Salvage Title within 30 days.
Tennessee: If your vehicle gets repaired, you have to have it inspected. Complete and submit a notarized Application for Motor Vehicle Identification Certification. This helps prevent auto-related theft in Tennessee according to documents we found online. The fee to convert a Salvage Certificate to a "rebuilt" title is $75 for individuals and $85 for licensed dealers.
Consumers are encouraged to check titles before purchase and get a pre-purchase inspection.
Commercial sites like www.carfax.com can be useful in tracking a vehicles history as well.
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