BOSTON (CBS) – When Latisha Williams bought a used 2003 Toyota Corolla, at a local dealership, she was given a clean Massachusetts auto title.
That was five years ago. Recently, when she went to trade the car in, she was surprised to find out the title didn’t tell the whole story. “We went to get a new car,” Williams told the I-Team.
“When they ran the Carfax to see what the value we would get for the car, he came back and told us it was totaled. At first I thought it was a joke,” she explained. But the dealer said the car had been totaled a year before Williams had purchased it.
A vehicle history report shows the car had a history of frame and fire damage.
That meant the car had less value and Latisha couldn’t get the money she was expecting for her trade in.
She may have been the victim of a practice called “title washing.” According to Carfax, a company which runs vehicle history reports, as many as 800,000 cars on the road across the country have evidence of title washing.
“Title washing is a fraud committed by criminals trying to hide major damage,” says Chris Basso, a spokesman for the company. “You can be given a clean title from the seller but that vehicle may have had serious damage and been issued a salvage title in its past.”
WBZ went to the dealership who sold Latisha her car.
“We had no clue whatsoever,” said an employee.
The owner insisted they do not buy salvage cars and he even showed WBZ the clean title he was given when he purchased the Corolla at auction.
“I think that we are victims of this too. Because we purchased a vehicle which we thought had a clear title,” the employee said.
That title was from Rhode Island. That could have been part of the problem.
Almost every state motor vehicle registry reports title information to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, which is part of the U.S. Justice Department. But Rhode Island and Vermont do not share the data. And Massachusetts is one of just six states that provides data but does not make its own inquiries to verify titles.
Experts say that means New England drivers may be more susceptible to being duped.
The I-Team also tracked down Wendy in Worcester County. She purchased a Dodge Caravan for her family several years ago.
No one ever told her it had once had a salvage title and had been totaled long before her purchase.
“I’m really upset because that’s dangerous,” she said.
That potential for danger is what really upsets Latisha, despite the fact that her car ran well for several years.
“I was able to finance it, register it, insure it. And it flew under the radar that I was in an unsafe car.”
That car now sits in her driveway, virtually worthless, with no one stepping up to tell her how this faulty title slipped through the cracks.
Experts advise used car drivers to run their own vehicle history report and have a mechanic check out the car before they decide to buy it.