The North Carolina Administrative Codes (11 NCAC 04 .0418) make it abundantly clear that the pre-accident condition of a vehicle has a major impact of the vehicle’s value – but it does not provide all the answers. Maybe you just purchased a pre-owned vehicle, and a few days after purchasing it you are involved a car accident that totals your vehicle. You know how much you paid for the car, but the insurance company is offering you significantly less than what you paid. Or perhaps the insurance company is offering you less than the local market price of a comparable vehicle, and your personal injury lawyer is telling you that this is a fair offer. How can this happen? How can two of the same vehicles in comparable condition be valued differently?

The pre-accident condition of the vehicle does not just mean its physical condition; it also takes into account the condition of the title. If your vehicle has a “Branded Title,” also known as a “Salvage Title,” then it is going to be worth less than a comparable vehicle without a branded title. Why?

A “Branded Title” refers to a marking made to the title and registration that reflects the previous history of the vehicle. N.C.G.S § 20-71.3(a) states that “”branded” means that the title and registration card shall contain a designation that discloses if the vehicle is classified as any of the following:

(1)        Salvage Motor Vehicle.

(2)        Salvage Rebuilt Vehicle.

(3)        Reconstructed Vehicle.

(4)        Flood Vehicle.

(5)        Non-U.S.A. Vehicle.

(6)        Any other classification authorized by law.

What all the classifications have in common is risk. For a prospective buyer, it is a risk to buy a vehicle that has previously been flooded, rebuilt, or has been involved in a total loss accident, and this risk is reflected in what the insurance company offers you for your vehicle.

The most common way for a vehicle to get a branded title is for the vehicle to be a “salvage” vehicle. A salvage vehicle is a vehicle that has been deemed a total loss. In a previous post we mentioned that the insurance company does not have to repair a vehicle if it has been involved in a total loss, so you may be wondering how a total loss vehicle gets repaired. This can happen in one of two ways: either the claimant chooses to keep their vehicle after it has been totaled, or the insurance company sells a total loss vehicle and the buyer fixes it up and resells it.

If you decided that you want to keep your vehicle after it has been totaled it is called “retaining the salvage.” There are a couple things to keep in mind when you retain your salvage. First, is it important to know that under 11 NCAC 04 .0418 the insurance company is allowed to deduct the salvage value of your vehicle from whatever amount they are paying you for the total loss. However, the insurance company must gives you the name and address of a salvage dealer who will purchase the salvage for the amount being deducted. They cannot just deduct the money without proving to you that the amount being deducted is correct.

 The second thing to keep in mind is that you must send your vehicle’s title in to the DMV so it can be branded, which will in turn lower the value. If you then decide to sell the vehicle, the law requires you to provide notice to the buyer that there is a branded title. If you fail to provide said notice, then the buyer may be able to pursue you for damages.

 Unfortunately, despite law requiring the seller of a vehicle with a branded tile to give notice to buyers of the brand, this does not always happen. If the insurance adjuster is the first person to tell you that your vehicle has a branded title, then it is probably time for you to speak with an attorney that specialized in car accidents and handling total loss claims. You may have an additional claim for damages against the seller of your vehicle, and when it comes to car accidents, it is important to make sure you are pursuing all possible options for compensation, and the best way to do that is to hire a personal injury attorney. Here at the Law Offices of Brian deBrun we specialize in helping people is just this sort of situation. With over 50 years of combined experience is handling all sorts of automobile accident cases, we know where to look to maximize your chance at getting full compensation for your damages.