Most states prevent totaled cars from re-entering the market without a salvage license, so consumers know that the used car they are looking to buy was once a complete wreck.
What bugs dealers and consumer advocates is that the tangle of state laws makes it possible to move a vehicle across state lines and apply for a “clean” title that makes no mention of its checkered past. The fact that some states don’t even require salvage titles stretches the loophole even wider.
The practice has become so prevalent, particularly in states affected by the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes, that Congress is considering a measure that would establish a national database of totaled vehicles. Before you buy a used car, especially in the south, first ask your mechanic to give it a once-over. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER