What Does a Clean Title Mean on a Car? (Explained)

Written by

Bruce Sonnier


Marcus Dutton

what does a clean title mean on a car

A clean title is a kind of car title that’s a very important factor for selling and trading in a car as well as buying a pre-owned car. If you’re not familiar with this term, this article will educate you on what does a clean title mean on a car.

A clean title indicates that a car hasn’t been severely damaged nor declared a total loss by an insurance company and a state. This gives the car a higher value when selling or trading.

Read on to learn how to tell if a car has a clean title, other kinds of car titles that may still be acceptable, car titles to avoid, etc.

What is a Vehicle Title?


Whether it’s on a car, on a van, or on a motorcycle, owning a title on the vehicle is crucial to have other documentation processed.

A title, issued by your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as proof of your legal ownership, is necessary to register your vehicle and issue a license plate for it to be legally driven.

Below are detailed typically seen on a vehicle title:

  • The vehicle’s vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • The vehicle’s make, model, and year
  • The vehicle’s license plate number
  • The vehicle’s history report
  • The vehicle’s overall value
  • The vehicle owner’s information
  • The vehicle owner’s driver’s license
  • Loan information (if the vehicle is loaned)
  • The date of the issuance of the title

What Does a Clean Title Mean on a Car?

Now that you have an idea about the vehicle title let’s delve into the clean car title meaning.

1. Definition


To define clean title, it indicates that a car hasn’t been declared a total loss by an insurance company and state. That means it has gotten into no accidents that were serious, which resulted in severe damages with repairs costing more than the car’s value or being irreparable.

2. Meaning


That being said, what a clean title means for cars is that the vehicles have little to no damage, have complete original parts, and haven’t been reconstructed or rebuilt. What a clean title looks like is what got its name. Buyers can easily determine whether the car is in good condition or not just by reading the title.

3. Exception

However, there may also be cars that have a clean title with an accident history or mechanical problems. Suppose the damage taken is just minor or not so severe with a repair cost not exceeding the vehicle’s value. In that case, the car may be eligible for a clean title.

That’s why car owners planning to sell or trade their car must take good care of it for it to have a clean title. This maintains a high value for their car and makes it easier to sell or trade.

4. Uses


As for buyers who want to buy used cars, going for one with a clean auto title will help ensure quality and safety. Banks and insurance companies are also more likely to grant a loan or insurance if a car has a clean title.

Moreover, aside from a clean title, another title you must go for is a clear title. They may sound similar, but there’s a difference between clear title vs clean title on a car.

While a clean title is a good sign of a car’s condition, a clear title is an indicator that a car has no financial issues and no creditor claims ownership of it.

Types of Title Brands

When a car got in an accident that caused severe damages or worse, had it declared a total loss by an insurance company and a state, it’s given a branded title. Below you can find the different title brands.

Note: Since the title branding laws differ among different states, you can check your state’s title branding specifics at your local DMV.

1. Salvage


The salvage title is the title brand you must avoid. Considering clean title vs salvage title, they are the exact opposite.

The latter indicates that the car is declared a total loss. A total loss car, also called a totaled car, is one that suffered severe damages. If the car is repairable, it’s still considered “totaled” if the repair cost exceeds 50-100% of its value, depending on the state.

A totaled car would be unsafe to drive or inoperable. In some states, it’s illegal to drive this kind of car. It’s also hard to insure them.

However, a car’s salvage title can be changed to a rebuilt title (to be further explained in number 2) when it undergoes extensive repairs and passes an insurance company’s and state’s safety inspection.

If it meets the safety requirements, it’s given the rebuilt title and legally drives it again. Another situation wherein a car would be given a salvage title is when it was stolen and recovered.

2. Rebuilt


The rebuilt title is also known as repaired, reconstructed, or reconditioned title. When a car has this title, it means that the car was once a salvage car but had been repaired extensively for it to be operable, safe, and legal for driving.

When it comes to clean title vs rebuilt title, a car with a clean title is the better option for safety and reliability. In addition, a rebuilt car may also have undergone upgrades costing more than its value.

3. Lemon


The Lemon title is another problematic title brand because this means that the car has been:

  • Inoperable for more than a month.
  • Repaired several times.
  • Having the same issues despite multiple repairs.

4. Junk


The junk title is also known as scrap, crushed, dismantled, or totaled title. This is given to cars that are severely damaged to the point that they’re irreparable and inoperable. Junk cars can’t be sold except as parts and scrap.

5. Flood


The flood title is given to a car that has endured a heavy flood. A car may not be declared a total loss when it got caught in a flood. However, severe water damage can have long-lasting adverse effects.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can a Clean Title Car Have Problems?

Yes, a clean title does not always mean a guarantee that a car is in perfect condition.

There are clean-titled cars that never got in an accident or mechanical problems. With that said, there are also those that have a clean title with accident history or mechanical problems. However, such issues are just minor or not too costly for the vehicle to be considered a total loss.

Moreover, there may also be the issue of hidden repairs. Some car owners would hide defects or repairs from the insurance company by paying for them under the table.

Car owners may try to repair their cars themselves, which may result in low-quality hidden repairs.

Why Buy a Branded Title Car?

By going with a branded title car, you can have the benefits of:

  • Buying a car at a lower price, especially if you’re on a tight budget since they’re less expensive.
  • The chance of getting a newer car at a more affordable price point.

However, you have to be meticulous when buying a branded title car. Ask for its history and overall condition and have a mechanic inspect it. Try to avoid suspicious vehicles that can bring safety hazards in the future.

How Do You Know if a Car Has a Clean Title

There are some dishonest owners and thieves who engage in the fraudulent act of title washing. They erase the undesirable history of a car that makes it a branded title car.

One way of title washing is taking advantage of the non-standardized laws for title branding among the different states. For example, title branding in Florida is more strict compared to Texas. And because of this, they’d bring a salvage or rebuilt car to a state with more lax laws and have it re-registered to get a clean title for it.

Another way is by forging a fake clean title or fake lien release documents.

So how can you avoid getting a title-washed car? Below is a list of things you can do:

  • Check in the car title, whether it’s a clean title or branded title.
  • Inspect the pre-owned car yourself.
  • Ask a mechanic to help you inspect the pre-owned car.
  • Check the pre-owned car’s accident history and verify if its title is indeed clean by running its VIN through VINCheck or CARFAX.


Knowing what does a clean title mean on a car will allow car owners to make the most out of their car’s value when selling a car or trading in a car. It will also help buyers to have a sound judgment before purchasing a car.

However, performing a thorough inspection is recommended, as a clean title doesn’t always mean a car is in perfect condition. Sometimes, a branded car that has been expertly repaired may also be a good, less expensive option.

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