What should you look for when purchasing a classic C3 corvette? You might automatically think about inspecting the quality of the paint, listening to the motor, checking the frame for rust, etc. However, one important factor is often forgotten about until the last minute or missed altogether.
Taking a look at the vette’s title is critical to know you’re making a good purchase. In fact, before I go to look at a classic Corvette I would like to buy, I always ask the owner ahead of time if they have the title and know where it is (a surprising number of people misplace their titles!). If the answer is no, there is no use in driving to see it.
Match it Up
So what should you look for? First things first. Make sure the VIN number on the title matches the number on the VIN tag. If the numbers don’t match, this is a major red flag- walk away! You could be dealing with a stolen car or a VIN that has been tampered with.
Now, this statement comes with a disclaimer. Sometimes when titles are transferred, one or two digits may be copied over incorrectly due to human error. The error is typically not a random one, but rather a digit has been replaced with another that looks similar. Most commonly. letter Z has been replaced with number 2, letter S with number 5, or number 1 with letter L, or vice versa. A title that doesn’t match for this reason is not nearly so worrisome. In most cases, you can submit a letter requesting a correction when you send the title in to be registered, and the errors will be fixed.
Check for Special Designations
There are several designations or “brandings” to look out for on a car’s title:
Salvage– A salvage title indicates that the vehicle has encountered damage requiring repairs costing more than, or close to, the car’s worth. A salvage title is issued when the insurance company determines that the car has been “totaled” and pays the owner to replace rather than repair the car. In our state of Pennsylvania, a salvage title is more like a certificate and looks different than an actual title. This is not the case in every state.
Repaired/Reconstructed– These titles are issued after someone has purchased a car with a salvage title and repairs it sufficiently to pass the state’s road inspection. In some states, a salvage title and reconstructed title are branded the same. Though some rebuilders do a fantastic job of reconstructing safe, road-worthy cars, I stay away from them completely. Though the car passed inspection to get a reconstructed title, there is still no way of way of knowing for sure if all the work was done well. There could be an underlying suspension, alignment, or mechanical issues that won’t become evident until it’s too late. Even if I do know that the car was rebuilt well, the next person will not. Therefore, a car with a reconstructed title will always be worth significantly less money and will be harder to find buyers for.
Flood- Some states, but not all, specifically designate cars that were totaled by flood damaged and then repaired. In other states, these cars may simply be branded as reconstructed. This is another area to stay away from completely. As with reconstructed titles, cars with flood titles may look perfectly fine, but have hidden electrical issues or problems with rust in areas that can’t easily be seen. Flood title cars are also worth less and harder to resell.
Theft Recovery– These titles are issued to cars that have been found after being stolen if the insurance company had already paid the owner to replace the car. The insurance company sells the car to a salvager, who makes any necessary repairs, then retitles and sells the car. Some of these cars may be perfectly fine. On the other hand, they may have been completely banged up or partially parted-out between the theft and the recovery. Once again, there are too many unknown factors and the car will be difficult to resell.
Other Designations– As with flood titles, there are other designations that some states may show specifically, such as fire damage, that other states may simply group in the salvage/reconstructed title category. Either way, the same concept applies. I would not purchase a corvette, or any other car, with these designations due to the unknown variables, and difficulty reselling.
Clear Titles– A title without any of the of these types of designations is referred to as a clear title. At Hobby Car Corvettes we only buy and sell Corvettes with clear titles. I recommend the same to anyone else in the market to buy a vette. Because types of designations and ways that they are shown vary from state to state, I also suggested becoming familiar with your state’s designations prior to heading out to buy a car.
Classic cars usually have mileage marked as “exempt” on the title. This is not a red flag. Once a car has reached a certain age, it becomes much more important to inspect the car’s current state and inquire about its history of upkeep, rather than use mileage as an indicator of quality. I describe the basics of this process in my Corvette Buyer’s Guide, found here. Of course, it’s still good to know the difference between a mileage exempt title and a title showing original miles.
In most states, any car older than ten years is automatically marked as “mileage exempt” when its title is transferred. This is because of odometer malfunction and human error (such as not reporting that the odometer has rolled over from 99,999 to 0) that can occur over the years, and also to prevent consumers from fraud.
At times, exceptions are made if the owner provides documentation of the mileage over the years, and formally requests that the original miles remain on the title. If you do come across a car with original miles on the title, and the seller has documentation (service reports, etc. indicating the mileage over the years), then be sure to keep that documentation and include it when you submit the title for transfer.
You can read much more about mileage exemption here.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Many of the cars I’ve declined to buy due to bad titles had owners who bought the cars themselves without realizing that the title had problems, or at least without realizing what the implications would be. Buying a classic Corvette can be exciting and sometimes overwhelming, especially if it is your first. Just remember to take your time and make sure everything checks out, including the title. Never commit to buying a car without seeing it, and don’t travel far to see a Vette without knowing it’s on hand. For more tips on buying your first or just your next corvette, check out my Classic Corvette Buyer’s Guide.