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Avoid Buying a Hurricane-Ravaged Car

Posted on October 31, 2017

Months after floodwaters have receded and hurricanes are a distant memory, there is another little anticipated cost of hurricanes in Florida and South Texas.

Water-logged cars are generally written off by insurance companies as a total loss. The owner is paid for the value of the vehicle and it is then the possession of the insurance company. The car’s #VIN number is reported to a searchable database.

A totaled vehicle is supposed to go to a salvage yard. One salvage auction company told the New York Times it had processed about 30,000 cars from Hurricane Harvey at two sites in Texas.  

Nearly 270,000 insurance claims for vehicle damage have been processed due to Hurricane Harvey, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.  

So relying on the vehicle’s #VIN number is supposed to be a guaranteed way to know that the car has not slipped through the system.

But Buyers Beware! There are always unscrupulous sellers who will try to sell you a damaged vehicle.  

The problems is a lack of uniform standards.

If you have recently purchased a car that may have suffered hurricane damage, contact Farah & Farah today.

Not all cars are insured, therefore information on the vehicle may not be entered into an insurance database.  Only 38 state motor vehicle title agencies report title data into the federal system, in compliance with the Anti Car Theft Act of 1992.

And there may be a different definition of the word “salvage” depending on your state.

Some less reputable scammers may “title wash” a car by selling it to someone in another state that will issue a clean title to a car once labeled as salvage.  

Consumer Reports has some tips to help buyers.

Consumers should check the car’s title history. Use the #VIN number (vehicle identification) to compare it to Carfax, an online car seller that accumulates the vehicle history. The National Insurance Crime Bureau also has a VINcheck.

It may cost you but the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System is a government site that incorporates more data sources.  The Center for Auto Safety believes this information should be free to the public.  

The smell of a musty car might indicate it’s been submerged just as mud and debris found in unlikely places like under the hood. Screws may be rusty under the dashboard.

Look for corrosion as evidence of water damage. It may impact electrical parts and corrosion may take weeks or months to become apparent.  

On the other hand, rain-soaked carpets alone may indicate a reliable and less costly car and could be a good deal for the buyer.

To learn more about these types of product liability cases, reach out to the personal injury attorneys at Farah & Farah.