Used car buyers have been reminded by Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo to beware of buying flood-damaged vehicles from last summer’s hurricanes and alerted consumers to an additional source of information for researching whether a particular vehicle may be flood-damaged.
“Experience from other hurricanes tells us to be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles. Don’t be scammed by unscrupulous dealers or auto auctions. If the deal seems too good to be true, use extra caution,” Stumbo warned. “Kentucky requires titles to be branded as “water-damaged” or “salvaged”; however, an unscrupulous dealer may obtain fresh documentation that hides the vehicle’s history before it enters Kentucky.”
The National Insurance Crime Bureau has compiled a database of vehicles and watercraft affected by hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and is making this database available free of charge to the general public at www.nicb.org.
Consumers may enter the vehicle identification number (“VIN”) to search this database. According to NICB, the information in this database was gathered from a number of sources, including insurance companies, salvage yards and state and local authorities.
Consumers should not, however, assume that a vehicle not included in this database is not flood-damaged, as NICB cautions that the database is not complete. The database does not attempt to determine the scope of the damage to any particular vehicle; NICB notes that some listed vehicles may have had no damage or very minor damage, while others had extensive damage and may no longer be safe to operate.
“Given the massive number of cars damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, consumers should be on the lookout for cars that may look good, but have underlying electrical or mechanical problems as a result of water damage,” Stumbo cautioned. “Any vehicle possibly affected by a flood should be thoroughly inspected by a competent mechanic of your choice prior to purchase.”
Prevention is your best protection to avoid used car purchase problems. Consumers with questions or who need to file a complaint may contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-888-432-9257.
Stumbo said Kentuckians should fully inspect used cars for clues of tell-tale signs of flood damage, including:
1. Ask to inspect records of the vehicle as well as the title. Also consider purchasing a title history from an online vendor of vehicle title histories. Many reputable dealers offer them free of charge to potential customers.
Consumers can also conduct a title search of the vehicle through the state Department of Motor Vehicles at www.dmv.org. Under Kentucky law, dealers are required to provide consumer with the name and contact information for the vehicle’s previous consumer owner if available. Consumers should contact the vehicle’s prior owner and ask whether the vehicle has been previously damaged and also about the vehicle’s performance quality and other issues.
2. Look for watermarks along the body and seams and specks of dried mud. Look inside (and behind) the glove compartment for watermarks, mud or other debris.
3. If carpeting has been replaced, be suspicious. Look for signs of improper fitting or color matches to help determine if it has been replaced. A good carpet cleaning can also disguise the flood damage, but a hot day can bring out the musty odors. Notice any discolorations in upholstery.
4. Look for mud under the dash area. Are wires coated with residue? Are other components showing signs of flood damage?
5. Look at the engine and its electrical parts. Pull back rubber boots around electrical and mechanical parts. Are there traces of residue? Are pipes pitted, rusting, or do they have a white powder coating the metal? Carefully inspect ALL areas for potential signs.
6. Check oil and other fluids for signs of cloudiness that indicates water contamination.
7. Inspect for grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, and flaking metal along the undercarriage that should not occur with later model cars.
8. Check switches gauges and indicator lights for proper functioning.
9. Check vent system and air/heat mechanism. Turn off and on several times. Notice any smell of mildew or other flood indicators. Look in vents for mud residue.
10. Look in trunk and spare-tire wells as well as head lamps and other lights for mud residue.
11. Are screws rusted in the console, glove box or interior panels or other areas which normally would not be exposed?
12. As with any used car purchase, do business with a reputable dealer and have the auto inspected by a reputable mechanic BEFORE you purchase.
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