What a Clean Title Actually Means?


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If you’ve been shopping for vehicles recently, you’ve probably seen more than a few that are listed with rebuilt, clean, and maybe even salvage titles. Each term means something different, and buying one that you didn’t intend to could cause quite a shock. 

The Drive’s editors have done the title dance many, many times, and with our vast array of car-buying knowledge, we can help you understand what a clean title is, as well as how they differ from rebuilt and salvage titles. 

Of course, we can’t be everywhere, so you should take the time to read your local laws to determine how those terms are being used and when they apply, too. But to get you started and on your way to new-to-you vehicle ownership, let’s get into the many forms of car titles.

What Exactly Is a Clean Title? 

Let’s first start with what a clean title is not. 

It’s not necessarily a car without problems whatsoever. It’s not an assurance that your new vehicle will not break, or that there has never been anything bad happen to it. A clean title only indicates that the vehicle has never been deemed a total loss. 

Cars that have been in accidents can still have clean titles if they were not totaled in the process. Additionally, if a vehicle has been in a wreck and was fixed without the insurance company finding out, it would not affect the title at all. 

It’s still extremely important to have a vehicle inspected before purchasing, even with a clean title.

What’s The Difference Between a Clean Title And a Rebuilt Title?

Once a vehicle has been in an accident and deemed a total loss, it will be given a salvage title. The salvage title indicates that the vehicle has not yet been repaired and that it cannot be safely or legally driven. 

If the vehicle is repaired to the point that it is safe and legal, it will get what is known as a rebuilt title. This means that it meets the requirements to be insured and that it can be driven. This is not the same as a clean title, however, as clean titles indicate that the vehicle was never deemed a total loss.

I Believe My Title Might Be Wrong. What Can I Do?

The first step is to have the vehicle inspected by someone you trust. If you purchased a car with a clean title and discover later that the title is wrong, you should head to the DMV as quickly as possible. Gather your documents, the inspection report from your mechanic, and describe your problem. 

At the very least, an investigation might occur, but if you purchased the vehicle from a business instead of an individual you might be able to get some or all of your money back. In the event of remedying a problem with an individual seller, it’s best to consult a local attorney who is familiar with the laws in your area.

Title Terms You Should Know

Get educated!


Of all the documents you have related to your vehicle, the title is likely the most important. Its job is to designate the legal owner of the vehicle, so it’s a big deal. Some states allow the direct transfer of ownership via the title, but some require other forms and/or actions to be taken before a vehicle can change hands.


Salvage titles designate vehicles that have been wrecked and judged to be a total loss. They have not been repaired and are not roadworthy from a safety or legal standpoint.


Rebuilt titles are applied to vehicles that have been wrecked and deemed a total loss, but that has been repaired. These vehicles are drivable, insurable, and roadworthy, but there’s nothing in the rebuilt title that indicates the quality of repairs. 

Total Loss

When a vehicle is a total loss, it doesn’t mean that there is no value. Declaring a total loss just means that the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds its value. Insurance companies apply this title, and will generally issue a payout for the vehicle’s value instead of paying to repair it.

FAQs About Clean Titles

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q: I’m Interested In Buying a Car With A Clean Title. Is There Anything I Need To Worry About?

A: Worry is probably the wrong word here. Caution is a much better word to describe the approach you should be taking. Keep in mind that the title does not, in any way, designate a vehicle as being in good working order. You should still be chasing a pre-purchase inspection to make sure you know what you’re buying.

Q: Do Cars With Clean Titles Cost More?

A: Yes. Cars with clean titles will cost more to buy than those with rebuilt titles. This is simply because of the fact that there are far fewer people that are willing to take a leap of faith on a rebuilt car than there are who would buy a new one.

Q: What If I Suspect Dirty Dealing With My Title?

A: Your first step should be a trip to the DMV to verify all information associated with your title. The next place you visit should be an attorney’s office to find out if you have any legal remedies to get your money back, or if you’ve just bitten off more hassle than you can chew. Some states have consumer protection laws that will help you recover money from a dealership, but it’s important to understand that individual sellers might not be covered by the same laws.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors! 

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)

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