Michigan joins database that helps car buyers

After Hurricane Katrina, authorities reported truckloads of flooded vehicles being taken out of Louisiana to states as far away as Michigan, where they were dried out, cleaned, and readied for sale to unsuspecting consumers.

Prospective purchasers of these vehicles may not have known that the vehicles had been subjected to a saltwater flood.

That problem should not be repeated, as Michigan now participates fully in a national motor vehicle title database created to prevent car thefts and protect consumers from title fraud.

Michigan recently joined Illinois and Texas as the latest states participating in the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Justice. The database now includes all Great Lakes states and 96 percent of all vehicles nationwide. The six remaining nonparticipating states (Hawaii, Oregon, Kansas, Mississippi, Vermont, Rhode Island) plus the District of Columbia are expected to join eventually.

“Too often in the past, Michigan residents bought used vehicles they thought were free of major damage only to discover later the vehicle had been wrecked out of state,” said Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. “Michigan’s participation in the national database protects car-buyers by giving them peace of mind that the used vehicle they’re buying hasn’t experienced significant damages.”

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is an electronic system that provides consumers with information about a vehicle’s condition and history. Prior to purchasing a vehicle, NMVTIS allows consumers to find information on the vehicle’s title, most recent odometer reading, brand history, and, in some cases, historical theft data.

A “brand” is a descriptive label that states assign to a vehicle to identify the vehicle’s current or prior condition, such as “junk,” “salvage,” “flood,” or another designation.

By capturing into one system specific information from multiple entities (state motor vehicle titling agencies, automobile recyclers, junk and salvage yards, and insurance carriers), NMVTIS offers states and consumers protection from title fraud, offers detection of stolen vehicles from being retitled, and makes it more difficult for criminals to use stolen vehicles for criminal purposes.

Michigan now submits new vehicle title information to the national database and has contributed its entire title history database. The system protects consumers by ensuring that out-of-state vehicles that are badly damaged in a crash or from flooding, even if they are rebuilt, still receive a specially branded Michigan title when they are brought here.

For example, a late-model vehicle from Illinois that was extensively rebuilt after a bad crash would not be able to receive a green-colored standard Michigan title and then sold to an unsuspecting consumer. The Secretary of State’s Office would see the vehicle’s Illinois title history and know to only issue that vehicle an orange-colored rebuilt-salvage title.

In addition to participating states, insurance carriers, and junk and salvage yards are required to report title information to the system, which contains more than 72 million salvage records. Law enforcement agencies also rely on the database to improve their ability to identify vehicle theft rings and help combat other criminal enterprises involving vehicles.

Michigan residents can review a vehicle’s title history through the national database at www.vehiclehistory.gov for a small fee.