The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is a U.S. Department of Justice program that came about as a result of government efforts to protect states and consumers from vehicle-related fraud. The federal database contains state title data and records from business who handle salvage and total loss vehicles.
NMVTIS vehicle history reports provide consumers with valuable information about a vehicle's condition and history. Prior to purchasing a vehicle, NMVTIS allows consumers to search for information on key indicators of a vehicle's value and safety.
Reports include information from participating states on a vehicle's current and previous states of title, the date titles were issued and odometer readings recorded at the time the titles were issued.
Vehicle identity theft, sometimes called VIN cloning, is a common practice among car thieves. A Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from a legitimate car is transferred it to a stolen vehicle of the same make and model, allowing the stolen vehicle to be sold to an unwitting buyer.
Title brands are statuses or labels applied by state motor vehicle titling agencies that describe a vehicle's history or condition, such as "salvage," "flood," or "prior taxi." NMVTIS keeps a history of brands that have been applied to a vehicle title, even if the vehicle is no longer titled in the state that applied the brands.
Brand information helps protect consumers and businesses avoid a common scheme known as "title washing," in which a vehicle branded as "junk" in one state is registered in another jurisdiction with less stringent titling rules, then again in yet another state with still different title regulations. The vehicle moves from state to state, and its title is gradually "washed" of the junk brand, so a "clean" title can be presented, disguising the vehicle’s real condition.
Without knowing the brand history, a consumer or business may pay more than a vehicle’s true value or purchase a vehicle that has not been adequately repaired and is not safe to drive.
Beginning in March of 2009, insurance carriers are required by law to report all total loss declarations made on vehicles of the current model year (in the year of the total loss) or the four previous model years.
When a vehicle has been deemed a total loss, generally the vehicle has had severe damage. Because each state has its own titling regulations, just because a vehicle has been declared a total loss does not mean that a state will automatically brand the vehicle's title to mark it as such.
Knowing that a vehicle has been declared a total loss can help consumers avoid purchasing a potentially unsafe vehicle.
Any individual or business that acquires or sells five or more junk, salvage or total loss vehicles per year is required to provide information on those vehicles to NMVTIS. This includes salvage vehicles sold at auction, vehicles used for parts or rebuilding. These businesses include auto dealers, vehicle recyclers, including scrap vehicle shredders and scrap metal processors as well as “pull- or pick-apart yards,” towing companies, salvage pools, salvage auctions, and other types of auctions.
Knowing a vehicle's salvage history helps consumers and businesses avoid purchasing devalued or potentially unsafe vehicles. Similar to a vehicle with a total loss history, a vehicle with that has a salvage history may have suffered severe damage.
State titling regulations vary, and just because a vehicle has been in the possession of a salvage business, does not mean that a state will automatically brand the vehicle's title to mark it junk or salvage. State laws vary in this regard and may not require application of such a brand, despite the fact that the vehicle was treated as salvage at some point.