Nearly a half million cars were destroyed by two of this past season's biggest hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. Some of these cars may not have received much apparent damage but they were totaled nevertheless because of water, mud, and debris which flooded engine bays and the interior. Damaged cars are supposed to make their way to the junkyard for scrap, unfortunately some unscrupulous parties are gaining a hold of the vehicle titles and turning around and selling damaged cars to the public. Should you be concerned? Absolutely! Read on to learn more about this problem and what you can do to avoid being stuck with a vehicle that is certain to be a lemon.
Let me just say this: it is not illegal for weekend mechanics to buy a salvaged vehicle, repair it, and sell it to you. What they must disclose to you is this: you are buying a salvaged vehicle. This is where most of the problems begin: the dishonest purveyors are not sharing this information.
Only 22 states require that the titles of flood damaged vehicles [which were totaled by insurers] be stamped with that information. So, if you live in any one of the 28 other states, be extremely cautious about buying any used car [check your local laws to see which group you belong to].
One organization is doing its part to help fight the problem. The National Insurance Crime Bureau [NICB] this past summer and fall sent teams to flood damaged areas in affected states to work with local police authorities. What the teams did was try to catalog all of the flood damaged vehicles and enter that information in a database, which is accessible online. Because of their diligence, nearly 200,000 car identification numbers are now available for car buyers to search at http://www.nicb.org
Car shoppers should always invest in obtaining a car history report from an independent company, such as Car Fax, as a back up source to verify information about a vehicle. Although the information supplied by these types of companies isn't always 100% accurate, it can usually reveal whether a car has been salvaged, rebuilt, is a lemon, or has been flood damaged. Some guarantee their information so check the individual contract / agreement before you use their services to see what recourse you would have in the event a lemon sneaks by them and you purchase one.
So, how can we know for sure that there will be problems? Well, if Hurricane Floyd is a measuring stick then the potential for fraud is huge. In 1999, nearly 80,000 cars were damaged by Floyd and taken off of the roads due to storm damage. About half of that number were repaired and resold, many to unsuspecting consumers.
You don't have to be a victim, so get informed. If a car is priced well below book value that can be a big clue that a problem exists, however don't rely on price, instead do some research first before buying your next used car.