The National Insurance Crime Bureau is advising potential car buyers to be aware of the possibility that that too-good-to-be-true used-car deal might actually be a “flood vehicle” that was damaged during Hurricane Irene. Such cars can be a great buy if you know what to look for and have the money and/or skill to restore a flood-damaged car to good working order, but purchased unaware, these vehicles often cause their buyers to incur high repair bills and even life-threatening injuries.
Further, warns the NICB, the average consumer probably doesn’t have the necessary experience or training to identify a flood-damaged vehicle before agreeing to purchase it.
According to the organizations database, insurance claims from last August included 11,789 flood-related vehicles, as opposed to a mere 994 such claims in August, 2010. The most states came from the state of New Jersey, with New York and North Carolina rounding out the top three.
If sellers disclose that a vehicle has flood damage, there is nothing illegal taking place. It’s only when they fail to disclose this information that a transaction become fraud. To help ensure that this doesn’t happen, the NICB encourages buyers to use their free VINCheck service, which allows customers to check for claims against specific vehicle identification numbers.
What else does the NICB recommend? Their list of tips for avoiding a flood damaged used vehicle is quoted below:
• Select a reputable car dealer.
• Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
• Check for recently shampooed carpet.
• Inspect the interior upholstery and door panels for fading.
• Check for rust on screws in the console or areas where water normally doesn’t reach.
• Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
• Check inside the seatbelt retractors by pulling the seatbelt all the way out and inspect for moisture, mildew or grime.
• Check door speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
• Have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.
• Ask about the vehicle’s history. Ask whether it was in any accidents or floods.
• Inspect the title and ownership papers for any potential salvage fraud.
• Conduct a title search of the vehicle.
• Look under the hood for signs of oxidation. Pull back rubber boots around electrical and mechanical connections and look for these indicators: ferrous materials will show signs of rust; copper will show a green patina; and aluminum and alloys will have a white powder and pitting.
• Also consumers should trust their instincts. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.