Glossary of Related Terms
When a vehicle is involved in a mishap that significantly affects the way it runs or looks, it might receive a branded title. Of course, the transformation must be serious. It involves a massive rubber stamp across the title signifying the new status. Some of the more common brands include: salvage, rebuilt, junked, lemon, and damaged.
These vehicles range from rental cars and taxis to police cruisers and other government cars. You might see auctions around town offering these types of vehicles at bargain prices. In many cases, you can find an inexpensive vehicle in good condition. Generally, running a VHR will reveal whether a vehicle was a fleet member.
Anytime there is a major flood in some part of the country, it seems cars from that area miraculously end up in other states with new price tags. This concern is again at the forefront after hurricanes recently pummeled the U.S. Gulf Coast. Shady salvage yards try to pass these cars off for something other than they are: severely water damaged and possibly defective. Auction houses are good at noting these vehicles. Thus, a vehicle history report (VHR) will often find out whether a vehicle has endured flood damage. But as a consumer, you should be extra cautious if you suspect that a vehicle you are interested in buying was under water at some point.
While not at the level of the illegal black market, this metaphorical shopping haven is still a place of shady transactions. Dealing on the market is technically legal, but without consent of the manufacturer. Basically, the gray market involves the import of certain vehicles (e.g. Peugeot and Fiat), which are readily available at competitive costs in other markets. An importer then sells the vehicles at a higher-than-market cost. Unfortunately, these vehicles do not always meet U.S. safety and emission standards.
Most states have enacted rather detailed laws to protect consumers from getting stuck with a car that just doesn't work like it should. A vehicle history report (VHR) might reveal when a manufacturer has repurchased a vehicle because it did not meet the standards of an enacted lemon law. Repurchased vehicles that re-enter the marketplace usually have branded titles.
This branded title signifies a salvage vehicle that is usually ready to take to the road. The vehicle has typically undergone a complete rebuilding with new or used parts. Each part is recorded, and the entire rebuilding process is documented by affidavit.
A recall occurs when a mass defect affects the safety or performance of a specific model of vehicle. Generally, the manufacturer will fix the problem for free within a certain period of time. Some model years just cannot seem to stay off the recall list. A VHR lists each recall over the course of a vehicle's life.
Rolled Back Odometer
The more miles on a vehicle the less it is worth. Consequently, there are some folks that manipulate the correct mileage reading by subtracting (or mechanically rolling back) the numbers.
Essentially, this type of vehicle is one step from the scrap heap. A vehicle in this condition earns the tag "total loss" by an insurance company for any one of a slew of reasons like wrecked beyond repair or flood damage. Yet, thanks to a bit of grease monkey ingenuity, these crunched and junked bits of mangled metal make it back onto the road. Some of these salvage vehicles run as well as they did when they first came off the assembly line. Regardless, if an insurance company totals a vehicle, in order to maintain possession, the owner must apply for a salvage title.
Vehicle History Report (VHR)
A VHR is a comprehensive collection of a vehicle's past. Using a vehicle's VIN, companies that provide VHRs mine data from a wealth of public and private sources. A report usually includes information on a vehicle's title and registration along with the details of accidents, recalls, and general misuse.
Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
Also known as the "very important number," the VIN is composed of 17 characters and is the key element used in a VHR to search a vehicle's past. All registration and titling data follows the number from owner to owner. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration helped to make the VIN with 17 characters, standard in all vehicles in 1981. Thus, detailed information for vehicles prior to that year is spotty at best. You can find this number on the driver-side dashboard or etched into the driver-side doorframe. You can also locate the number on your insurance card and vehicle registration.