In the wake of the devastating storm that hit the eastern seaboard, industry experts are cautioning car buyers to be wary of “deals” surfacing on the market. “Trust, but verify” is the best action to take when buying a used car, say experts.
Just as Hurricane Sandy didn’t select what to destroy in its path, vehicles within the areas hit by the storm may have been damaged and many often find their way to the used-car market. Vehicle history reporting service, VinAudit.com, warns that unscrupulous automotive dealers often prey on victims of storms and turn flood-damaged vehicles into seemingly “great deals.”
This is not a new occurrence. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, VinAudit.com says many of the 640,000 vehicles damaged in the storm surge wound up on the “used-car” sales lots and many are still on the market today.
While states such as New York and New Jersey have laws specifying that vehicles damaged by flooding must be clearly branded, VinAudit.com says “flooded” cars are not easily identifiable and the impact of the storm could larger in area hit by Sandy as it has higher population density than where Katrina struck, industry experts say.
The most widespread form of automobile fraud is what is known as “title washing” where vehicles from flooded areas are transported to other states, dried out, cleaned and passed off to unsuspecting consumers as used cars. Most often air-bag systems and vehicle electronics are affected or outright damaged by salt-water flooding.
Luckily, there are ways a consumer can get protection from such crooked dealers. One way is the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), a national database which collects and compiles data from state departments of motor vehicles (DMVs), salvage yards and insurance companies. The collected information makes up a list that is used by law-enforcement agencies to trace vehicles across the country. The MNVTIS can be accessed by the public online. Independent agencies like Carfax also keep databases.
VinAudit.com adds that checking the history of a vehicle is only part of the process when considering purchasing a used car. The organization also recommends consumers have the vehicle checked by certified mechanic.