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Local Dealer Warns Hurricane Damaged Cars Could Flood The CT Market

Flooded cars are pictured at a dealership after Tropical Storm Harvey in Orange, Texas.

While Connecticut was spared from catastrophic hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate, local car buyers may still suffer a direct hit to their wallets. Not only is the increased demand for new cars driving up prices, a wave of flood-damaged cars may sweep across the country, warns the auto experts at New County Motor Cars of Hartford.

“After any such disaster we see these vehicles show up in areas far removed from their state of origin,” said Job Pimentel, General Manager of New Country BMW of Hartford. “We haven’t seen any hitting the Connecticut market yet, but I would guess they will be arriving soon.”

Pimentel notes these units would be sold initially via auctions and once they have been purchased at auction they could end up for sale anywhere. If the vehicle was paid by an insurance company as a totaled unit to the owner (insured), then the title of the vehicle will be “branded”. From a documentation standpoint, that is the best way to verify for any flood issues.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), when a car is damaged by water and an insurance claim is filed, the status of the car’s title is supposed to be changed. A car that has a “salvage title” is one that the insurance company considers a total loss because it either can’t be repaired or will cost more to repair than it is worth.

A car with a “flood title” is one that was damaged by water that reached high enough to fill the car’s engine compartment. That title status should appear in a vehicle history report.

Pimentel further explains that flood damage to cars often isn’t obvious, potentially putting buyers involved in a private sale at risk. The situation highlights the need for consumers to have a professional mechanic examine used vehicles prior to their purchase. A better option is to purchase a car from a reputable dealer.

Additionally, Pimentel recommends that car buyers take the following steps to help avoid ending up with a car with hidden flood damage:

Look for signs of water damage. That includes stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpet and mats. Also look for those signs on the dashboard and where the spare tire is stored.

Check the headlights and taillights to see if there is any fogging.

Give the car a good sniff. Do you smell cleaners or disinfectants? That could be a sign the seller is trying to cover up a bad smell, like mold.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau also offers a free online database that lets you type in a vehicle identification number and find out whether a car was flood-damaged or stolen.

Car vehicle reporting services like Carfax provides users with a history of the vehicle they’re considering purchasing. The cost for one report is around $30 – $40.

“Even if a car appears to be fine, problems could surface down the road in a car that was repaired after a flood,” said Pimentel. “The issues would be primarily electrical, but some mechanical issues could also surface.  If it was submerged in water and not properly cleaned out, some fungus will surface as well.”

The FTC notes most of the vehicles that are water damaged are sold to parts companies who will dismantle them and re-sell usable parts that are not rusted or corroded. But Pimentel said the model, year, mileage and condition will come into play.

“Luxury cars are generally more profitable to refurbish and sell,” concludes Pimentel. “Buyers need to be particularly careful when looking to purchase high-end vehicles from private, potentially unscrupulous sellers.”

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