Investigation finds major problems on cars that have clean titles

ATLANTA — After months of searching, Luke Jackson finally found his dream car. The Tesla Model 3 he’d been saving up for and paid for in cash.

“The title looked clean. There’s only 9000 miles on it. It was a 2018. So perfect scenario,” Luke Jackson told Justin Gray.

Jackson checked the Carfax report and did his research but it wasn’t until months later he learned his car’s true history.

“It was completely totaled, like trashed,” Jackson said.

Jackson now knows before he found it on a Florida car dealership website and purchased it, his Model 3 spent some time as a listing on auto auction website.

The posting shows a picture of the Tesla with extensive front-end damage. The repairs listed at more than $34,000.

But the car still had its original title -- a clean title, not branded as salvaged. Jackson wondered how that could be.

For the answer, it’s helpful to look back to a Channel 2 Action News investigation from September.

Gray told the story of one Toyota 4-Runner that has changed hands at least 7 times in 5 years in 5 states.

The whole time it had a critical safety defect that customers never knew about: it is missing side curtain airbags. Chris Humphries was one of owners and he’s been tracking the SUV ever since.


“There are potentially millions of these on the road, people have no clue. They have no clue and they’re not safe. And they will never know, " Chris Humphries said.

The 4-Runner and the Tesla have something in common: both got their clean titles in Texas.

“Here’s all your airbags deployed,” Humphries said as he scanned a popular auto auction website. The site lists hundreds of wrecked cars and trucks available for purchase in Texas, all with clean titles. Many of the cars list multiple airbags as having been deployed.

“33,000 actual cash value. $31,000 estimated repair. Original title,” Humphries rattled off as he scanned the website.

And it’s all legal. That’s because Texas law has a 100% “total-loss threshold.”

Translation: unless the repair cost is more than what the car is worth, the title remains original and conceals the history of cars that were in serious accidents.

But as he researched, Humphries noticed a pattern.

A high percentage of the damaged cars for sale in Texas listed the same seller name: Progressive Insurance. That information is hidden now on the website. But not before Humphries captured a sampling of the posts.

Progressive told us in a statement:

“We follow the laws and regulations set forth by the applicable state and are extremely confident we were in compliance with the Texas state law.”

Gray traced that 4-Runner as it was sold again and again without ever having the airbags re-installed. But he lost track of it in September after Gravity Auto in Sandy Springs told him they sold it at an auction after it sat on their lot for 60 days.

But by November, the 4-Runner surfaced again, this time in Nashville with a new owner. The side-impact airbags are still missing.

The owner says despite what Gravity Auto told Gray in September, they sold him the car.

“And he has young children that he’s been driving around in the backseat,” Humphries said.

As for Luke Jackson, when Tesla found out the history of his car, they canceled his warranties and now he can’t even use the charging stations.

“If I were to resell it, the value would be cut in half probably. Because it’s not under car warranty. They’re going to know now that ... it was salvaged. So I kind of just lost $20,000.”

Auto fraud experts say the best way to research a car’s history is to get the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or NMVITIS report.

For a small fee, it will list major accidents that might not make it on a Carfax report. It will also show if an insurance carrier takes possession of a car after a policyholder gets in a wreck.

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