The vehicle reporting service Carfax.com (www.carfax.com) says there has been a 23 percent increase in the delivery of salvaged vehicles to the Mid-South over the last five years.
Lax state laws and the fact that Memphis is the nation's distribution center make our area a dumping ground for rebuilt vehicles. Carfax's Chris Basso says it's also revealing a sinister scam: "title-washing."
"Where they are removing a 'salvaged' brand that has been issued by another state, moving them to the state of Tennessee and handing them a "clean" title," says Basso.
National Insurance Crime Bureau (www.nicb.org) Investigator Tom Zimmer showed us a late-model SUV that had been wrecked in Florida. The vehicle's insurance records reveal the insurance company listed the damage at $10,000: a total loss.
But Zimmer says it was sold to a Kentucky chop-shop. He provided records that indicate the chop-shop's mechanics fudged paperwork and repairs to make it look as if the SUV required only 'minor' work on the hood, bumper and fenders -- for $663. The salvage title was "washed" to appear as a "clean" title.
The SUV was sold again -- from a Memphis used car lot -- before it ended up in the Memphis Police impound lot as evidence in a criminal investigation.
"They can buy it in one state, take it to another state and rebuild it, take it to a third state and get a clean title," says Zimmer.
He says whenever you shop for a used car, either from an individual owner or from a dealer, always request to see the title before you negotiate or take a test-drive. The law allows you to view any vehicle's title by request.
The title should reveal whether the car was salvaged. If not, you can request the dealer run a Carfax report at the dealer's expense, or you can order your own Carfax report if you have the vehicle identification number (VIN). That number is located both on the dashboard under the windshield and on the driver's side door (Make sure those numbers match!).
He also recommends these tricks:
* A KITCHEN REFRIGERATOR MAGNET. Bring one with you to the used car lot or the seller's home. Place it on the body of the vehicle, all around the vehicle. Zimmer says if it doesn't stick anywhere on the vehicle's body, chances are the car was wrecked and rebuilt with plastic body filler and multiple coats of paint.
* A DOLLAR BILL. A rebuilt vehicle's doors often don't seal shut. Zimmer says if you can shut the door on a dollar bill and pull the bill out without any resistance, then the car has been wrecked and rebuilt. There will also be wind noise when you test drive the vehicle.
* MISMATCHED COLOR CHECK. Open the hood. Does the color of the metal under the hood and around the engine compartment match the outside color? Is there evidence of over-spray from a lazy paint job?