RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -If you’re in the market for a car, don’t just trust a good coat of paint and shiny wheels, do your research. That car title which gives it a clean bill of health? It could be a work of fiction – cleared of any problems by crooks. Virginia isn’t immune to the problem, but there are ways to protect yourself.

Robert White says he was the victim of title washing. “My truck that was worth $25,000, I couldn’t sell it for $19,000,” he tells us. His car was a Lemon Buyback from Georgia, but that information was wiped clean from the Virginia title. He sued the dealer and settled out of court.

His attorney John Gayle says, with a clean title, crooks can hide problems with cars and make big bucks selling the damaged vehicles. “I think it is a big problem, but most consumers don’t know it is a result of title washing. What happens is that they just know they have a car that isn’t working right,” he says.

Gayle wants to see Virginia DMV create tougher guidelines when it comes to branded or blemished titles from other states. “If one of our sister states has branded a car a lemon, it is a fact that the public should know about and it may or may not be on CarFax or AutoCheck,” he explains.

We couldn’t get anyone on camera but DMV does admit sometimes these washed titles can slip through the cracks. Spokesperson, Sunni Brown released this statement: “DMV successfully processes more than 2.4 million titles each year. Out of those, only a fraction, less than one percent, are branded, and all branded titles are processed out of a central work unit at DMV headquarters in Richmond to ensure the titles are branded correctly. DMV has measures in place to ensure titles are issued accurately and branded appropriately including participating in the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) and processing all branded titles out of a work unit at DMV headquarters in Richmond.”

“Anybody who is serious about buying a car without problems, never should buy that car unless they have taken it to a body shop and a mechanic to see if it has any problems that they can tell,” Gayle says.

Chris Basso, with CARFAX showed us several reports, all evidence of title washing in Virginia but he says it’s a nationwide problem. “Unfortunately, with cases of title washing, we’ve seen people die from it. Where ever there is money to be made, criminals are going to skirt the system. It happens because title documents can be altered, cars are moved from state to state where regulations differ,” Basso explains.

He offers three tips that he says will better protect consumes: Get a CARFAX, test the drive the car and take it to a trusted mechanic. “Our database never forgets, that branded title information will show up on the CARFAX report forever,” he says.

If you think you’ve been a victim, you should contact your insurance company or report it to The National Insurance Crime Bureau.

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