Buyer Beware: Thousands of Flood Damaged Cars Expected to Flood Used Car Market
AAA Offers Tips and Urges Consumers to Take Precautionary Measures
DAYTON, OH (September 14, 2017)—Up to one million vehicles were submerged, soiled and spoiled by Hurricane Harvey’s catastrophic floodwaters – which is twice the number of vehicles destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined - and, of course, Irma then flooded vehicles in Florida as well.
Whenever a major hurricane triggers flooding, thousands of vehicles which have been ‘totaled’ by auto insurers, slip out of the impacted area and, in many instances, end up on the used car market, where buyers may be unaware the vehicle has a “salvage title,” or the title has been “washed.”
AAA is warning buyers to have any vehicle closely inspected by an AAA-approved or reputable auto mechanic and to closely inspect the vehicle’s paper title before you buy.
“There is no doubt that the used car market will be flooded with some of these vehicles” says AAA Public Affairs Manager, Cindy Antrican. “Buyers with an untrained eye could purchase a flood-damaged car that seems to run great but they’ll pay a steep price for the damage done soon thereafter”.
AAA: Signs of water damage may include:
- waterline under the hood, undercarriage and bumpers
- mud and debris inside the cabin and trunk
- signs of rust inside the vehicle
- fogging inside the headlights and taillights
- the scent of disinfectants or cleansing agents used to cloak musty smells, mold or mildew
- carpet or floor mats with traces of wetness
- signs that the carpets, seats and interiors were recently shampooed
“Flooded cars are not always totaled, and 50 percent are eventually resold. Always purchase a vehicle history report or obtain a free VIN report for any vehicle suspected of having a watery past,” continued Antrican.
The trouble is most unsuspecting car buyers don’t know the difference between a ‘salvage title’ and a ‘flood title,’ warns the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC describes the difference this way: A ‘salvage title’ means the car was declared a total loss by an insurance company because of a serious accident or some other problems. A ‘flood title’ means the car has damage from sitting in water deep enough to fill the engine compartment. The title status is part of a vehicle history report.
“Let the buyer beware” is the age-old watchword for consumers to abide by when they find deals too good to be true on used or new vehicles for months to come. Consumers should also be wary of websites that allow car buyers to bid on salvage flood-damaged vehicles.
Thousands of hurricane-ravaged vehicles are being totaled by insurance companies and will end up at the scrap yard. Untold numbers of flood-damaged vehicles will turn up on the auction block.
When Harvey hit, a third of car owners in the Houston area did not have comprehensive auto insurance, says Consumer Reports. Those who didn’t, have little hope of recovering the loss of their flooded vehicles.
AAA offers these tips for used car buyers:
- Obtain a CARFAX Vehicle History Report – This report can potentially reveal if the vehicle has been involved in a flood, major crash, fire, or uncover odometer fraud.
- Conduct a title search of the vehicle. Check the VIN number at VINCheck.
- Check the vehicle’s VIN with appropriate government agencies or your state bureau of motor vehicles.
- Analyze the ownership pattern for any new or late model vehicle with no lien holder.
- Be careful about purchasing a used vehicle from an individual running a newspaper ad and using a cell phone number. Check for title or registration histories indicating the car was in a flood area.
- Look for information from a vehicle’s current title, including the vehicle's brand history. “Brands” are descriptive labels regarding the status of a motor vehicle, such as “junk,” “salvage,” and “flood” vehicles.
- Look for any reports of the vehicle being transferred or sold to an auto recycler, junk yard, or salvage yard. Select a reputable car dealer when buying a used vehicle in the aftermath of disasters.
- Look for the latest reported odometer readings to detect odometer tampering or fraud.
- If possible, have your insurer check to determine if the vehicle was previously insured in a flooded area.
- Trust your instincts. If you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away.
AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 57 million members nationwide and more than three million members in Ohio. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit www.AAA.com.