NEWS RELEASE – October 7, 2005
BUYING A USED CAR?
Consumers Should Watch For Flood-Damaged Vehicles
OLYMPIA , WA – State regulators warn that thousands of vehicles damaged in recent hurricane-related flooding may find their way into the garages of unsuspecting consumers all across the nation.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused flooding that may have damaged more than 500,000 vehicles. Many of these vehicles are expected to move from state to state as they are cleaned up and offered for sale at auto auctions, used car dealerships, and even by private parties. After being cleaned up, these vehicles may look like any other vehicle.
However, there are significant mechanical, safety and health risks associated with flood-damaged vehicles.
Due to the high number of vehicles suffering damage, it is possible some of them will enter Washington and be offered for sale here, Department of Licensing Director Liz Luce said. And because dealers may not be aware of a vehicle's past, consumers must protect themselves, she added.
Washington consumers should be aware that flood damage may undermine a vehicle's safety or resale value and should look for signs of water damage themselves.
Obvious signs are things like sand or rust under trunk mats or in fender wells.
Dirty floodwater can cause rust and damage major mechanical parts like engines and transmissions. The water also damages electrical systems especially onboard computers that are often located at low points in vehicles, like under seats.
"When purchasing a used car, consumers should always carefully examine and test drive a vehicle," Luce said. "They also should have it inspected by a mechanic they trust and avoid any seller who refuses to allow an independent inspection."
Consumers purchasing a used vehicle, either from a dealer or a private party, also can ask to see the vehicle title or other proof of ownership and examine it carefully. The presence of a title brand, which is a note on the title indicating an abnormal vehicle history, or a title from a state with recent flood activity should prompt consumers to further question the vehicle's history. If the title is not available for inspection, the vehicle may be one to avoid.
Washington recently launched a title fraud detection system that will help identify flood-damaged vehicles entering the state from Louisiana , Texas , and Alabama . The heart of this system is a centralized computer database of vehicle records updated by many states. This database contains title brand information that will be printed on vehicle titles issued by Washington .
Titles branded with words like flood, rebuilt, salvage, or reconstructed indicate a vehicle that has suffered extensive damage in the past. However, motor vehicle officials across the country are concerned that many of these vehicles may not go through the branding process and will be sold under the original titles or through other means. This will result in "clean" titles for these vehicles, masking the fact they were damaged in the flood.
These tips can help to spot potential flood-damaged vehicles:
• Before buying any used car, always get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. The extra cost may save money in the long run if major problems are discovered.
• Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped "salvage."
• Use an online vehicle history tracking service like Carfax.com to get more information about a vehicle's past.
• Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and to look for signs of water.
• Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
• Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.
• Check the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
• Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.
• Check for a well-defined line, or watermark, and for musty odors resulting from mildew.
• If the car's history seems suspicious, ask the seller if the car has been damaged by flood water. Get the answer in writing on the bill of sale.
As Published in the IBA WEST Weekly Insider – October 7, 2005
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