Hurricane Sandy is barely a month behind us and consumer advocates are warning car buyers to be on the alert for flood damaged cars. Rosemary Shahan, President of CARS (Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety), said, “Flood cars are ticking timebombs.” The NICB (National Insurance Crime Bureau) released preliminary figures on November 26, 2012. They said that 230,000 insurance claims have been submitted for flood damaged cars and expect more to come. People across the country need to be on the lookout for these cars because “flood damaged cars can be shipped across the country in a matter of days,” according to Rosemary Shahan, President of NCL (National Consumers League).
In the past, about half of the vehicles damaged in floods appear on the market. It’s legal to sell a flood-damaged car, but it is illegal to sell a flood damaged car without disclosing that fact to the consumer. A New York Times article said that in 2009 the Justice Department began requiring insurers to register vehicles designated total losses in the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System within 30 days of the designation. This has cut down on so-called title-washing. Salvage yards, dealerships, and car-rental businesses must also report totaled vehicles. These reports can be found at www.vehiclehistory.gov.
There are other resources consumers can check for reports on flood damaged vehicles. The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System will give consumers a vehicle history report for a fee of up to $12.99 at http://www.vehiclehistory.gov/. Carfax allows consumers to check for free whether a vehicle has been in a flood at www.carfax.com/flood. Consumers can also go to NICB’s https://www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck for free access to the vehicle salvage records of participating NICB member insurance companies.
From CARS, NCL, and Consumer Reports here are some tips and steps to take before purchasing:
Get the VIN number and trace the vehicle history
Use the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System ($3 to $13)
Get the vehicle inspected by your own independent auto technicial
Insist on seeing the title to the car before you buy
Words to watch out for are flood, junk, salvage, rebuilt, or reconstructed; just because a car has a clean title, it does not mean the car is OK, you should still run a vehicle history check
Look for signs that your car may have been submerged such as musty smell or “over perfumed,” mold/mildew, silt or residue in dashboard dials, under the wheel well, in gaps between panels in the trunk and under the hood
Look at the heads of any un-painted, exposed screws under the dashboard
Check the seat-mounting screws to see if there is any evidence that they have been removed because to dry the carpets, the seats must be removed
Inspect the lights for visible water lines on the lens or reflector
Title or registration histories indicating the car was in a flood area
Look for a telltale waterline on the sides and back of the engine
Check if the rubber drain plugs under the car and on the bottom of doors look as if they have been removed recently; it may have been done to drain floodwater.
For more information you can trust, see