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Beware of Water-Damaged Used Cars in Sandy's Wake

If you're in the market for a used car, make sure it's not one of the thousands of vehicles damaged during Superstorm Sandy .

The National Insurance Crime Bureau and Amica Insurance warn against inadvertantly purchasing vehicles that were declared total losses as a result of Superstorm Sandy.

Amica Insurance released a press release last week, offering tips to help consumers identify and avoid water-damaged cars, which were declared a loss by insurance, then potentially fraudulently resold to new buyers.

"Salvage operators and dealers may try to conceal the fact that a car has been damaged," said Shannon O'Brien, an Amica Insurance assistant vice president, "leaving potential buyers as potential victims of a bad deal."

The NCIB offers VINCheck, a free consumer protection service to help potential car buyers identify cars which may have sustained flood or other damage. The VINCheck log compiles its list from more than 1,100 insurance companies. Consumers can search the log to see if the vehicle they're considering was declared as salvage.

The VINCheck service was born seven years ago, following Hurricane Katrina. The NICB worked with law enforcement officials in Louisiana and Mississippi to examine hundreds of thousands of flood-damaged vehicles, then established VINCheck to help consumers identify vehicles declared as salvage, or as unrecovered stolen vehicles.

In the wake of Sandy, consumers should also be aware of the potential for fraud by repair mechanics.

"Fraud is an unfortunate reality in post-disaster environments," said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. "As the initial recovery from Hurricane Sandy begins, there are people right now who are planning to converge on the affected area to scam disaster victims out of their money while promising to do repairs."

The National Autmobile Dealers Association recommends taking the following precautions against buying a storm damaged car:

  • Check the title history with VINCheck to see whether the vehicle has sustained flood damage.
  • Examine the engine compartment, door panels, dashboard, trunk, upholstery and interior carpet for signs of water, mud, mold, grit or rusting.
  • Look for rust on areas that normally would not come into contact with water. Check wiring for rusted components, water residue or corrosion.
  • Inspect the undercarriage for signs of rust or flaking.

"When in doubt, have the vehicle checked out," said NADA Chairman Bill Underriner. "Your safety and your family's safety are far too important to risk."

Dotterer Auto Body November 27, 2012 at 02:14 PM
What is not mentioned in the article is the amount of onboard computer modules located throughout the vehicle. Some modules control the SRS or airbag system. These modules are usually located on the floor of the vehicle either under the front seats or under the center console. These of course would be the first to see any water damage. Any damage or corrosion of the wire terminals could affect the operation of the air bags preventing their deployment or triggering deployment prematurely. These flood damaged cars should be scrapped, plain and simple. Checking a service such as VINcheck only lists vehicles reported by insurance companies. Non insured flood damaged vehicles are not listed. Other online vehicle reporting services are only as good as the information they receive. There are a lot of vehicle repairs that are NEVER REPORTED and as such would not appear anywhere. Consumer oriented repair facilities, such as myself, are your only source to determine whether a used vehicle has suffered any water or serious collision damage. My advice for anyone considering the purchase of any used vehicle is to have that vehicle inspected by someone who knows what and where to look for any telltale signs of previous damage. Our experience has been that there are a lot of vehicles on the market that have serious issues with the safety and integrity of the vehicle. Are you willing to risk the safety of your life and those who ride with you ?

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