A brand is added to a California Certificate of Title or registration card to note certain conditions or events in a vehicle’s history.
Brands provide important information about a vehicle’s history. They are given to vehicles with high mileage, significant damage, chronic problems, etc. While most states put history brands somewhere on their titles, the wording varies from state to state.
Common title brands used by most states:
- Gray market
- Lemon law buyback
- Prior police
- Prior taxi
- Revived junk
- Revived salvage
- Scrap vehicle
- Warranty returned
- Water damage
Conditions That Require a Brand
The following brands are included on California Certificates of Title and DMV records:
- Salvaged: Vehicles marked with a “salvaged” brand were involved in an accident, or incurred considerable damage from another source, such as a flood or vandalism. This brand includes previously dismantled (junk) vehicles.
- Original Taxi (or Prior Taxi): Vehicles formerly used for hire (which usually have high mileage).
- Original Police (or Prior Police): Vehicles formerly used by law enforcement (which usually have high mileage).
- Non-USA (Grey market): Vehicles originally manufactured for sale and use outside the United States, but which have been converted to meet federal and California safety and emissions standards.
- Warranty Return (or Lemon Law Buyback): Vehicles which have been returned to the manufacturer under California’s Lemon Law.
- Remanufactured: Vehicles remanufactured by a licensed remanufacturer who builds vehicles using reconditioned or used parts. These vehicles may be sold under a distinctive trade name.
- Park Trailer: Vehicles sized 400 sq. ft. or less of total floor area (excluding compliant loft area space) that are designed for human habitation for recreational or seasonal use only. Park trailers are built upon a single chassis, and may only be transported upon the public highways with a CA Dept. of Transportation permit pursuant to California Vehicle Code (CVC) §35780.
Finding a Title Brand
Although California has indicated prior history on titling documents for many years, vehicle history information is now more prominently displayed on the latest revision of both the California Certificate of Title and Salvage Certificate.
You will find the title brand in a red box, titled VEHICLE HISTORY, near the upper right-hand corner of the document.
Of all the vehicle brands, salvage might be most important to look out for. A salvage vehicle is a vehicle that has been wrecked or damaged to such an extent that it is considered too expensive to repair.
Be Cautious When Buying a Revived Salvage Vehicle
A revived salvage is a salvage vehicle that was repaired and reregistered with DMV. Although many salvage vehicles are expertly repaired, some vehicles:
- Are not properly repaired or tested and may be dangerous to operate.
- Have been repaired with stolen parts. If the California Highway Patrol (CHP) or DMV determines the vehicle or its parts were stolen, the vehicle cannot be registered and the vehicle or parts will be seized.
How to Identify a Salvage Vehicle
Inspect the title. The vehicle’s title includes the following information that provide clues to the vehicle’s history:
- Vehicle brand is listed as “Salvaged.”
- Mileage when the vehicle was last sold.
- Vehicle owner.
Sellers, including dealerships, are legally required to disclose a vehicle’s salvage title and history. However, this law is difficult to enforce, especially when a vehicle comes from another state.
California licensed dealers must obtain a National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) report from an approved provider before a used vehicle is offered or displayed for sale. If the NMVTIS used vehicle history report indicates the vehicle is or has been a junk or salvage, or the certificate of title contains a brand, the dealer must post a disclosure statement on the vehicle while it is displayed for sale. The only exceptions are when a dealer attempts to obtain an NMVTIS report but NMVTIS does not have a record for the vehicle, or if the vehicle is a motorcycle, recreational vehicle, or off-highway vehicle subject to identification under CVC §38010.
Inspect the vehicle. Some of the following clues may suggest the vehicle has an undisclosed salvage history:
- Signs of major repairs on the inner fender structures.
- Mud, mold, or rust under the carpet in the trunk.
- Vehicle identification number (VIN) plate attached with materials other than rivets.
- Safety restraint light is always on.
- Airbag covers are resealed or improperly installed.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) labels (which usually appear on the doors, inside hood, tailgate, and hatchback) are missing.
Ways to Protect Yourself
- Be sure the seller is the owner. If the seller is not the owner or an authorized agent for the owner, they are not entitled to sell the vehicle and you are not entitled to transfer the vehicle to your name.
- If the seller’s name is not on the title, there must be documentation (such as a bill of sale, dealer report of sale, or power of attorney) authorizing that person to sell the vehicle.
- Check the vehicle history.
- Check the database of vehicles and watercraft affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Sandy.
- Search for storm damaged vehicles.
- Check the smog test history of a vehicle, verify a repair dealer’s license, and find information on making a wise used vehicle purchase.
- Find consumer assistance and vehicle information.
- Get a copy of someone else’s vehicle record.
Need something else?
Use our fee calculator to estimate any applicable registration or title transfer fees.
Renew Your Vehicle Registration
You need to renew your vehicle registration every 1-5 years in California, depending on the vehicle. Make sure your registration is up-to-date.
Make an Appointment
Some applications can be submitted to a DMV office near you. Make an appointment so you don’t have to wait in line.