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Thanks to a ruling last week from a San Francisco Federal Judge, insurance companies and salvage yards will be required to submit information regarding salvaged and stolen vehicles to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) by March 31, 2009. The system will allow consumers to search by Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to see if a used vehicle has previously been stolen or involved in a major collision.

When a vehicle has sustained major damage in an accident and is declared “totaled,” the title of the vehicle is typically noted as being “salvaged” to inform potential owners that there may be damage to the vehicle that is not visible, particularly to the untrained eye. Such damage can involve the safety systems of the vehicle, making the vehicle less able to protect its passengers in a collision. Stolen vehicles are likewise noted, because a stolen vehicle can be exposed to all types of damage. Consumers are always encouraged to research the history of a used vehicle before purchasing in order to ensure the vehicle is free from any major defects in the mechanical or safety systems.

Several current services exist for researching vehicle history based on the VIN, such as Carfax, Experian AutoCheck, and VINCheck, some of which charge a fee for the service. However, none of the existing services provide comprehensive information since insurance companies and salvage yards are not yet required to report information. This will change as of next year.

By March 31, 2009, consumers will have a reliable source of vehicle history information, essential to their ability to make wise decisions about used cars. Some information may be available through NMVTIS as early as January 30, 2009.

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