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What is a Branded Title on a Car?

Last updated 03/26/2024 by

Ossiana Tepfenhart

Edited by

Fact checked by

Branded titles belong to cars that experienced serious damage, such as during a major accident or a storm. If you see a branded title being sold at a dealership, it has been repaired and inspected by your state’s DMV. The vehicles are often sold at a discount because of their previous damage histories.
Let’s say you see what looks like a lightly used car for an incredible price. You’re amazed to find such a deal and check the car’s vehicle report history before making an offer. When reviewing the history, you’re upset to see the car has a branded title. But what does that mean for your vehicle, and is this a serious liability? Unfortunately, branded titles often have a stigma for good reason.
A branded title means that the car in question is a used car that has been impacted by serious damage and was once given a salvage title. Since then, it has been repaired and returned to functionality. But there’s more to it than that. Keep reading to learn more about what it means to own a branded title car and whether that good deal is really worth it.

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What is a branded title?

A branded title vehicle is a car that has been through serious damage or experienced another major problem. This could be due to a major car accident, being parked in a flood zone during a storm, or even getting hit by a falling tree.
Either way, the car had enough damage to require serious repairs before becoming drivable again. In rarer cases, a branded title may also mean that the car is a “lemon” (we’ll talk more about this later).

Are branded titles drivable?

With that said, there is a nuance when it comes to branded titles. Title brands, on their own, just mean that they’ve been dealt damage. Branded titles are often followed by specific title designations, with these six as the most common:
  1. Salvage title
  2. Rebuilt title
  3. Lemon title
  4. Water damage title
  5. Hail damage title
  6. Odometer rollback title
If you are buying a branded title from a car dealership, it’s safe to say that they’re using the term to mean a “rebuilt” title. What does this mean? It generally means that any repairs you need for such a vehicle were already completed and that the car passed an inspection.
Since the time of the damage, someone bought the car and rebuilt it. It got the fixes it required to once more become street legal. This is a car that used to have significant damage and, despite repairs, may still have issues.

What makes a car a “lemon law” return?

Though many branded titles represent rebuilt cars, you may also see a lemon title brand. Lemon laws protect you against a car that has been sold without disclosing serious damage, such as a hail-damaged vehicle, or a car that was present in a major flood.
Unfortunately, each law has its own rules and regulations regarding lemon branded titles. That being said, there are some overarching qualifications. In general, if a car is referred to as a “lemon,” this means the car has undergone multiple repairs. These repairs may be to the car as a whole or for the same problem. Once the car reaches a certain number of repairs (or requires repairs within a specified timeframe), the car is declared a lemon.

Pro Tip

You can always find out what your local lemon laws are by checking your state government’s website. Dealerships generally have to tell you if a car was returned because of a lemon law, along with the resulting history.

How does a car get a branded title?

A vehicle doesn’t necessarily have to be in a horrific accident to receive a branded title. A branded title could mean that a car suffered damage from a flood or hail storm, leading to overall damage that needed specific repairs. Let’s look at some examples.
  • Odometer rollback. The mileage on a vehicle heavily impacts its value, as more mileage tends to come with more wear-and-tare. Occasionally, you may see a used vehicle with a branded title that states “Not Actual Mileage.” This indicates that someone (either a previous owner or the dealership) rolled back the odometer to pass the car off as a newer vehicle.
  • Water damage. Most states consider flood damage a serious issue. This is because flood waters can create mildew and mold as well as impact engine performance.
  • Hail damage title. While not present in all states, many states may assign a branded title to a vehicle that suffered hail damage. Depending on the severity of the hail, damage that may look only skin deep can actually be more serious and affect the mechanics of a vehicle.

Are branded title cars safe to drive?

While it’s true that a branded title means that your car underwent significant damage, the truth is that they don’t get a branded title unless they are heavily repaired.
Legally speaking, a car can only receive a branded title once it receives all the required repairs. Once repairs are complete, the state’s department of motor vehicles has to inspect them to ensure that every repair was done well enough to make the car safe for driving.
IMPORTANT! Use caution when purchasing a branded title vehicle. Just because all the necessary repairs were made doesn’t mean there isn’t hidden damage that inspectors missed.

Can you drive a salvage title?

A salvage title is a branded title that has not been repaired. It’s a vehicle that’s generally only good for parts or as a heavily repaired vehicle. You cannot legally drive a salvage vehicle.

How can you finance a branded title car?

After doing your due diligence and checking out a vehicle history report, you decide to put an offer on a car with a branded title. However, you might find it difficult to finance a branded title using an auto loan.
Because of the vehicle’s history, some auto loan lenders are hesitant to offer financing. Instead, you may be better off looking for a personal loan to finance your purchase. Be sure to compare multiple lenders beforehand, as personal loans tend to come with higher interest rates since they’re often unsecured.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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Why would someone buy a car with a branded title?

It is possible to get great deals on vehicles with branded titles. Most branded titles will be 20 to 40% beneath the car’s Kelley Blue Book price. Some can go as low as 50% less.
Branded title vehicles are harder to sell and insure, which makes them less expensive than vehicles with a clean title. Naturally, drivers prefer to buy cars that haven’t been involved in major accidents or required multiple repairs. However, that doesn’t mean that all branded title vehicles are unreliable.

Pro Tip

If you want to buy a branded title car, make sure that you ask about the vehicle’s history and get it inspected by an independent mechanic (or several). Otherwise, you may end up with terrible repair quality.


Is branded the same as salvage?

Branded titles differ from salvage titles. Title brands are a sign that a car has undergone a serious amount of damage and that the damage has been repaired. A salvage title means that your car has undergone such an extent of damage that it is deemed a total loss by an insurance company.
A salvage title means that your car has not been fixed. If it is sold, it’s going to be sold as-is, with no warranty. Salvage vehicles are not legally drivable, but salvage titles can be fixed to become a branded title.

What does “branded CA” mean on a title?

CA branded titles are only available in California. This is a title brand that means the vehicle has an issue with its vehicle history reports that should give a potential buyer a moment to pause. It can be a matter of an odometer rollback, a high mileage reading, or a major accident.

Is a branded title the same as rebuilt?

Branded and rebuilt titles are different, though both can happen to a used car. A rebuilt title tends to mean that your title is also a branded title.
The key difference is that the damage on a rebuilt title has been totally repaired. This isn’t necessarily true of a branded title.

Is a rebuilt title the same as a repaired title or reconstructed title?

Yes! Depending on which state you live in, these can be used interchangeably.

Where do car companies get car title information?

Your car’s title is linked to your vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN is what makes your car unique. Whenever a car goes through a major accident, an insurance company will make a note associated with your VIN regarding the damage.
While not all damage will get linked to your vehicle, any time that your car needs serious repairs funded by an insurance company, there will be a legal record of it.

Key Takeaways

  • Branded title vehicles have major damage that will appear on their vehicle history.
  • If a branded title has not been repaired, it’s considered to be a salvage title, and is not legally drivable.
  • If a branded title was rebuilt, it is considered to be street legal.
  • Rebuilt branded titles are not considered a clean title, which is why they are sold at a massive discount.
  • If you buy a car with a branded title, there’s always a chance that you may later experience trouble due to the vehicle’s history.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

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