What Is a Branded Title?

If you're shopping for a used car, finding a brand on the title is a red flag.

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If you're in the market for a used vehicle, there are a few things to consider checking before you make a purchase. One of the most important steps is learning the vehicle's history and seeing if it has been in an accident or had any serious damage or issues. A look at the title can provide some clues.

Branded Titles Are for Cars With a Blemished History

The title of a car with a history of serious damage or other major issues is required to be branded with that information to protect car-shopping consumers. A title marked salvage or lemon law buyback, for example, is a branded title.

Vehicles with branded titles are typically so damaged that the cost of repairs exceeds the total value of the car — also known as a total loss. Dealerships in some states are required to inform you if the car has a branded title, but if the vehicle is being sold by a private seller and you aren't sure if there's a brand associated with its title, you can check the history on sites such as Carfax or AutoCheck.

Title Branding Can Be Added for Multiple Reasons

A brand is added to a title for a variety of reasons, including serious cosmetic damage, an odometer rollback, or being declared a total loss by an insurance company. A branded title can also be due to things such as water damage, hail damage, or major accidents. Lemon laws, which vary by state, can lead to a branded title, as well. If the previous owner used a lemon law to return the car, a "lemon" brand will be placed on the title.

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System will be alerted to these instances in a vehicle's history, but not all states report this information to the database. How branded titles are handled also varies by state and includes salvage and rebuilt titles in certain cases.

Beware of Buying a Used Car With a Branded Title

It's important to know that a vehicle with a branded title might be harder to insure or be more difficult to finance. While you might think that you're getting a good deal because cars with branded titles are often cheaper, you should understand that a car with a branded title is damaged from the start and could need costly repairs.

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Connor Hoffman
Connor Hoffman is a writer and editor based in Kansas City. Prior to becoming a freelance writer, he was an editor at a national car magazine and worked in communications at a major automaker. He loves off-roading and camping in his 4Runner, golfing (poorly), and shredding on his mountain bike.