Every year, flood-damaged and wrecked vehicles must be dealt with. In the unglamorous but busy sphere of repair, salvage and scrapping, it's critical to separate legitimate operators from those misrepresenting rebuilt vehicles as never damaged.
One important tool for fighting fraud is the federal vehicle electronic title-checking system.
It's a central clearinghouse of vehicle title information from all U.S. states. It's specifically designed to prevent title washing -- taking stolen vehicles or those labeled as "scrap," "water damage" or "junk" by one state and getting another state to issue a clean title.
But just 38 states fully participate. Six provide data but don't check title requests against the U.S. list. Another six plus the District of Columbia don't inquire or share data.
That's a gap big enough to drive a flood-damaged auto through. It is unacceptable to endanger the lives of motorists by turning a blind eye to unscrupulous operators who cheat consumers, dealers and lenders.
State motor-vehicle departments should check every title request against the national registry, especially for vehicles originating from a different state.
No state should tolerate fraud simply because it can't or is unwilling to keep accurate records on transactions.
States were supposed to fully comply with the federal clearinghouse by 2010. D.C. and the six states not supplying data are listed by vehiclehistory.gov as "in development."
There are problems to overcome. Oregon's computer system, for example, uses a programming language so antiquated it can't talk to the feds' system.
States should link to the federal database, and use it. Beyond that, state laws should be standardized to prevent title washing by fraudsters shopping around for states that don't label junked or flood-damaged vehicles.
Law enforcement should fight title washing. And dealers, auctions and junkyards should demand that they do.
Government agencies demand that automakers make safer vehicles, act faster on recalls, and provide timely information to regulators. That's appropriate. What's not appropriate is for other governmental agencies to excuse themselves from recording basic safety information on transactions that they tax.