You may or may not know this, but that used vehicle on sale at your local dealership with a "clean" title could have been wrecked, stolen or involved in a flood. So much for the pristine title that you looked at before purchasing the vehicle. Congress and the Justice Department have known about this problem for decades and in 1992 the nation's governing body ordered the creation of a national database to show which vehicles were involved in thefts or other incidents.

That's a step in the right direction for sure, one that took a full 17 years to come to fruition. The feds have finally released the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, a comprehensive list of 300 million vehicles. The national database will reportedly save Americans $4 billion to $11 billion per year in fraudulent claims. That's a lot of money because there are a lot of fraudulent transactions every year. Experian claims there were 185,000 damaged vehicles that were retitled in another state, providing a fraudulent clean bill of health. The Detroit News says over one million vehicles are stolen each year and retitled in another state.

Now that the federal database is online, customers and dealers will be able to find out whether the vehicle was salvaged, scrapped or reported stolen almost anywhere in the U.S. Unfortunately, only 77 percent of vehicles are covered under the new database because five states opted not to participate. The five states not participating are Oregon, Illinois, Mississippi, Kansas and the District of Columbia. All four states reportedly cited budget problems as the reason for not being included in the registry.

Customers and dealers can go to vehiclehistory.gov for more information. There are even links to a pair of government-approved sites where you can run a Vehicle Identification Number for $4.95. It may be a bit annoying to pay for a service that was provided largely by federal tax dollars, but it beats the heck out of purchasing a vehicle that was in a serious accident or was found in six feet of water.

[Source: vehiclehistory.gov via The Detroit News]