A flood-damaged vehicle is one that has been completely or partially submerged in water with damage to the body, engine, transmission or other mechanical components. When a dishonest dealer or owner makes cosmetic repairs and moves one of these vehicles out of the state where the damage occurred, the title gets "washed," thereby omitting all evidence of flood or vehicle reconstruction from the title.
The car is then shipped to other states and sold to unsuspecting buyers. What looks like a good deal to the buyer may turn into a series of costly repairs and a safety threat down the road.
Attorney General Kane encouraged consumers to do the following to avoid purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle:
- Have the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic before agreeing to a purchase.
- Look inside the trunk, spare tire compartment, glove compartment and dome lights for evidence of moisture, silt, rust or corrosion.
- Check the engine for water damage or moisture.
- Examine all areas for signs of rust, including the underside of the vehicle, door hinges and seat springs.
- Look for dirt or dried mud under the dashboard, floorboard carpet or in air vents.
- Perform a diagnostic check of all electrical systems and look for brittle wire casings, rust or corrosion.
Kane warned consumers to be wary of someone trying to sell a vehicle below its market value, and recommended that potential buyers research a vehicle's history before making any purchase.
There are several websites available to assist consumers in securing information regarding a vehicle's history.
Consumers should check the following resources and verify that the vehicle history report has the most current information:
- The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) maintains a free database at www.nicb.org that allows consumers to check for flood damage using vehicle information numbers (VINs).
- AutoCheck provides a free "storm damage scan" for consumers at www.autocheck.com. When you enter the VIN, the service will tell you if the vehicle was reported as storm-damaged. AutoCheck also sells a more detailed vehicle history.
- The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) allows consumers to check a vehicle's history at www.vehiclehistory.gov
Attorney General Kane advised consumers to understand the difference between a flood title and a salvage title.
A flood title means the vehicle was damaged from sitting in water deep enough to fill the engine compartment.
A salvage title means the car was declared a total loss by an insurance company that paid a claim on it. The criteria for declaring a salvage title varies by state, and a small number of states give stolen vehicles a salvage title.
Consumers who suspect they have purchased a flood-damaged vehicle or have questions relating to the purchase of a used car should contact the Office of Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection at 800-441-2555 FREE.