Texas Program Helps Used Car Buyers Avoid Title Problems

Title Check tells prospective buyers if the titles are clean

Buying a Car
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The state of Texas offers a program called Title Check that helps drivers avoid problems with used car titles. Title Check makes it possible to see if a Texas-titled vehicle has any value-limiting issues, such as flood damage or being declared salvage.

The program helps prospective used car buyers avoid falling victim to fraud, said Monica Blackwell, formerly title services director of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. The program is only for used cars and trucks with Texas titles. Consumers enter the vehicle identification numbers (VINs) of the cars or trucks they are planning to purchase into the website. "If the system responds 'None' you will know the vehicle has a clean Texas title before you buy it," Blackwell said.

The service, which was introduced in June 2011, is important because a used car seller can show a prospective buyer what appears to be a clean title to a used vehicle but isn't. Title Check prevents that type of fraud.

Honest Dealers Like It

The service is supported by the Texas Independent Automobile Dealer Association, which provides education and promotes ethical standards for used car dealers. "Everyone who buys a used car or truck wants the peace of mind of knowing they are making the right decision," said Danny Langfield, formerly the association's deputy executive director. "We believe Title Check can help to reassure customers they are dealing with an ethical used car dealer."

Because Title Check provides information only on vehicles with Texas titles, Blackwell suggested that consumers consider using a commercial vehicle history company for information on out-of-state titles. Two such companies are CarFax and AutoCheck, though neither is perfect. They are only as good as the information they collect, which is fairly thorough.

You also should consider using the service if you aren't buying a vehicle in Texas but are out of state and buying a vehicle from Texas to see if it has a clean title.

Know Before You Buy

It's important to take advantage of the service and check the title before you buy the car. "When you show up in our tax office with a bad title, we can't fix it for you," said Ronnie Canales, tax assessor-collector of Nueces County.

If that happens, you could become involved in a logistical nightmare trying to get your money back, but you should try. Attempting title fraud is a demonstration of illicit character, which could mean there are other problems with the vehicle.

Another concern complicating the title process is that Texas law is not clear on what constitutes a salvage vehicle, meaning one that has been damaged in an accident, by harsh weather, or by theft. There is no set percentage of damage before a vehicle receives a salvage title. A vehicle is considered salvage when repair costs, not including repainting, exceed the vehicle's value at the moment before the damage occurred. This means that the older your car is, the more likely it can be considered salvage in the event of an accident.