The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is an electronic system that provides consumers with valuable information about a vehicle's condition and history. Prior to purchasing a vehicle, NMVTIS allows consumers to find information on the vehicle's title, most recent odometer reading, brand history, and, in some cases, historical theft data.
A “brand” is a descriptive label that states assign to a vehicle to identify the vehicle's current or prior condition, such as “junk,” “salvage,” “flood,” or another designation. By capturing into one system specific information from multiple entities (state motor vehicle titling agencies, automobile recyclers, junk and salvage yards, and insurance carriers), NMVTIS offers states and consumers protection from title fraud, offers detection of stolen vehicles from being retitled, and makes it more difficult for criminals to use stolen vehicles for criminal purposes. For example:
- After Hurricane Katrina, authorities reported truckloads of flooded vehicles being taken out of Louisiana to other states as far away as the upper Midwest, where they were dried out, cleaned, and readied for sale to unsuspecting consumers in states that do not brand flood vehicles. Prospective purchasers of these vehicles may not have known that the vehicles had been subjected to a saltwater flood that made the vehicles' electrical systems (including their airbag sensors) more prone to failure. NMVTIS is designed to prevent vehicle histories such as these from being “washed” or concealed because it is designed to serve as a national repository of vehicle brand information. Fully implemented, NMVTIS will have data from every state and will be queried before any state issues a vehicle a new title, making it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to wash a “flood” designation from a vehicle.
- South Florida law enforcement involved in “Operation Roadrunner” recovered approximately 250 cloned, stolen vehicles across the U.S. and expressed their belief that had NMVTIS been fully implemented, much of this criminal activity would have been prevented. In this multistate investigation, it was discovered that a criminal enterprise based in South Florida was stealing vehicles and replacing the VINs on the stolen vehicles with VINs removed from other vehicles of the same make, model, and year. These “cloned” vehicles were then used for criminal purposes or sold to unsuspecting consumers. Because the stolen cars and their fraudulent title paperwork displayed legitimate VINs taken from other automobiles (i.e., they were “clones”), consumers, state's motor vehicle titling agencies, and law enforcement could not detect the vehicles' true stolen status. The criminal enterprise that was taken down in this investigation was linked to many other types of criminal activity, including major violent crimes. Read more about cloning at vehicle cloning.
- In one western state, DMV clerks checking NMVTIS prior to issuing a new title have identified vehicles suspected of being stolen and vehicles with potentially fraudulent documentation and have been able to notify law enforcement instantly, before a new title was issued and while the suspects were still in the DMV offices. This has prevented crimes from occurring (e.g., fraud) as well as assisted law enforcement in investigating other crimes (e.g., theft).
NMVTIS was created to:
- Prevent the introduction or reintroduction of stolen motor vehicles into interstate commerce;
- Protect states and consumers (individual and commercial) from fraud;
- Reduce the use of stolen vehicles for illicit purposes including funding of criminal enterprises; and
- Provide consumers protection from unsafe vehicles.
In addition, the system provides law enforcement with an important tool to reduce auto theft and vehicle-related crimes.
Where implemented, NMVTIS has already produced results, including time and cost savings for state motor vehicle titling agencies, reductions in consumer wait time, decreases in motor vehicle thefts, improved recovery rate of stolen vehicles, increased ability to identify cloned vehicles prior to title issuance, and improved investigative abilities. Results produced to date include:
- South Dakota and New Hampshire saving time and money by no longer requiring the clerk to manually update a state record with returned title information since such updates are automatically included in NMVTIS.
- Arizona realizing a reduction in customer wait time and the ability to identify problems upfront due to online, accurate data.
- Virginia seeing a 17 percent decrease in motor vehicle thefts.
- Arizona experiencing a 99 percent recovery rate on vehicles identified as stolen.
- Arizona, Florida, and Virginia identifying cloned vehicles by working together, prior to issuing new titles.
- Florida cracking a car theft ring responsible for cloning more than 250 cars valued at $8 million.
- All participating states recapturing brands lost by non-participating states.
- Indiana experiencing a reduction in lawsuits by consumers who were given clear titles with missing brands.
- New Hampshire's Motor Vehicle Supervisor stating that the amount of funds spent to implement NMVTIS “represents a small fee considering the savings on insurance fraud, cloning vehicles, stolen vehicles, odometer fraud, and preventing washed brands for consumer protection--all thanks to NMVTIS!”
(Source: American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators)
The law requires NMVTIS information to be made available to prospective purchasers, including businesses that purchase used automobiles or commercial consumers. Commercial consumers include lenders who are financing the purchase of automobiles (and in many cases actually own them as the lien holders) and automobile dealers. Lenders and dealers are integral components of the automobile purchasing and titling process, and their ability to avoid fraud also protects individual consumers.
Prior to purchasing a vehicle, consumers can search NMVTIS to discover:
- Information from a vehicle's current title, including the vehicle's brand history. “Brands” are descriptive labels regarding the status of a motor vehicle, such as “junk,” “salvage,” and “flood” vehicles;
- The latest reported odometer readings;
- Any determination that the vehicle is “salvage” by an insurance company or a self-insuring organization (including those vehicles determined to be a “total loss”); and
- Any reports of the vehicle being transferred or sold to an auto recycler, junk yard, or salvage yard.
Through NMVTIS, once a vehicle is branded by a state motor vehicle titling agency, that brand becomes a permanent part of the vehicle's NMVTIS record. Vehicles that incur significant damage are often branded “junk” or “salvage.” Currently, motor vehicles with brands on their titles can without much difficulty have their brands “washed” (i.e., removed) from the titles. Brand washing can occur if the motor vehicle is retitled in another state that does not check with the originating state or does not check with all states that previously issued a title on that vehicle to determine whether the vehicle has any existing brands that may not be shown on the current paper title. Fraud can occur when these vehicles are presented for sale to unsuspecting consumers without disclosure of their true condition, including brand history. These consumers may pay more than the vehicle's fair market value, and may purchase an unsafe vehicle.
Experian Automotive recently reported that in just the first six months of 2008 there were more than 185,000 titles that were initially branded in one state, and then transferred and re-titled in a second state in a way that resulted in issuance of a purportedly clean title. NMVTIS is effective in greatly reducing (if not eliminating) this type of fraud, preventing a significant number of crimes, and potentially saving the lives of consumers who might otherwise and unknowingly purchase unsafe vehicles.
NMVTIS is designed to collect information from states, but not to change the nomenclature used in, or standards created by, state motor vehicle laws or by state motor vehicle titling agencies. Each state has its own laws, standards, and terminology that are unaffected by NMVTIS. For example, one state may examine and brand a damaged vehicle as “salvage,” while another state may not because the damage may not reach a certain dollar or value threshold (e.g., damage estimate in relation to fair market value) required by that state's laws. In another example, a vehicle recovered from a flood or other natural disaster involving water (e.g., hurricane) may be flagged or branded as “flood” in certain states, but in other states no such designation exists. Because one state may brand or flag a vehicle as a flood vehicle does not mean that other states must also designate the vehicle as “flood.” NMVTIS is valuable because it retains and makes available to users of the system all reported brands applied to a vehicle so that relocating the vehicle from one state to another will not “wash” the brand, because NMVTIS retains this information and makes it available to any state.
Consumers should also be aware that differences in state procedures and reporting are important to understand. For example, some states exempt vehicles of a certain age from titling, and other states may collect and report varying levels of descriptive information on vehicles (e.g., make, model, color), while several states may report on all motor vehicles including motorcycles and heavy equipment, despite the requirement to report NMVTIS on common automobiles only. The Department of Justice recommends that consumers educate themselves on these types of issues before relying on any vehicle history report information, from this or any other service provider.
A NMVTIS Vehicle History Report is intentionally concise. It is intended to provide data on only five key indicators associated with preventing fraud and theft. A "clean" NMVTIS report is a GOOD thing!
While 87 percent of the U.S. vehicle population is currently in NMVTIS, more than half of the states report data to the system and approximately 20 million salvage or total loss records are in NMVTIS, until all entities are reporting into NMVTIS as required, consumers should be aware of the possibility that a search may yield a false negative indication, such as "no junk or salvage history." These same gaps can exist in other, private vehicle history databases and consumers should educate themselves on these issues as well.
In addition, NMVTIS data comes from multiple sources. These sources are independent and are not required to follow or prescribe to a uniform approach for defining vehicle conditions and titling. For example, because a vehicle has been in the possession of a junk or salvage yard, does not mean that a state must brand the vehicle as junk or salvage. State laws vary in this regard and may not require application of such a brand, despite the fact that the vehicle was treated as salvage at some point. The bottom line is that the standards governing these matters vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Similarly, an insurance determination of “total loss” does not necessarily mean that a vehicle was destroyed or is worthless. In some cases, such as stolen vehicles that are not recovered within a 30-day period, insurance companies may label these vehicles as “total loss.” If the vehicle is later recovered in perfect condition, the “total loss” determination is not removed and the the insurance company or an auction company or pool may attempt to sell the vehicle in perfectly good working order.
Consumers should be aware that the information in NMVTIS is not all of the information that a state may include in its vehicle title records. Consumers are encouraged to consider accessing the actual state title record to ensure that all relevant information is considered before making a vehicle purchase decision.
Each NMVTIS consumer access vehicle history report will include a link to access the current state's full vehicle title record. Click HERE to find out how to access state vehicle title records.
For more information regarding the types of crime addressed by NMVTIS, please visit:
National Insurance Crime Bureau: Fact Sheet on Vehicle Cloning
National Insurance Crime Bureau: Brochure on Vehicle Theft
Federal Bureau of Investigation: Information on Car Cloning
Insurance Information Institute: Information on Auto Theft