Consumers urged to be wary of salvaged flood-damaged vehicles
San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 01/04/2013 -- Consumers shopping for used cars are being warned about the dangers of unknowingly buying a vehicle damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Estimates on the size of the potential problem vary widely. The vehicle-history reporting service Carfax has suggested Sandy may affect more vehicles than the 600,000 hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Other sources say vehicles damaged by this year’s superstorm are unlikely to exceed 100,000.
No matter what the actual number turns out to be, thousands of storm-damaged vehicles are certain to flood into the used-car market. State rules on how much information used-car buyers must receive differ greatly. More than half the states require “branded” titles indicating a car has been flood damaged or sold as salvage, but others do not. If the vehicle has been sold in a state without such a notice requirement, am unwary subsequent buyer might not learn of its past damage, and possible future problems.
Flood-damaged vehicles, whether intentionally “title washed” by resale in a non-reporting state or just moved around the used-car market, may wind up being offered on used-car lots far removed from the storm-hit region. Cosmetic steps can help conceal much flood damage, but good looks can be deceiving.
To protect themselves against the serious risks in purchasing a flood-damage vehicle, used-car shoppers should be aware of potential problems and take steps to discover the history and true condition of any used vehicle.
Most auto insurers will declare a total loss any vehicle that has been in water up to its dashboard, because of the likelihood of expensive corrosion damage to its engine, transmission, airbag, and electrical components (including the onboard computer), which could affect key safety-related systems like brakes and steering.
Sandy water can cause unseen damage to engine or transmission parts. Water damage to padding under seats and carpet can hold musty odors and create an environment for black mold growth. Flood-damaged cars may also have trouble finding insurance or future buyers.
To protect against buying a vehicle with possible serious problems, smart shoppers can obtain a vehicle history report. Such reports can be acquired from sources such as the federally-supported National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck (both free) or from a for-fee service like CarFax.com or AutoCheck from Experian.
A skilled mechanic can also help. Mechanics can make a pre-purchase inspection, used for discovery of telltale signs. Such problems include, but are not limited to: water immersion, such as brittle wires, and water lines in carpet. Undercarriage damage, signs the vehicle’s carpet or seats have been removed, water in dashboard gauges, or finding rust, mud, or silt in the vehicle’s interior or trunk are other giveaways.
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