AAA-mid Atlantic is warning car buyers to be on the lookout for damaged cars that are flooding the marketplace.
Over 200,000 cars were labeled as “flood damaged” after Hurricane Sandy. Many of those cars are showing up in Virginia and down the East Coast, AAA warns.
“Nine months in the making, these flood-damaged vehicles with checkered histories and ‘scrubbed titles’ are finally showing up for sale,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs. “Yet, an easy-to-fleece buyer doesn’t know that ‘title washing’ has occurred.”
“Title washing” is a ploy used by unscrupulous sellers to “erase” or conceal a flood-damaged vehicle’s damage history from the potential buyer. In this scam, the seller moves a flooded, totaled or junked vehicle with a salvage title through several states, scrubbing the title along the way, according to AAA.
AAA Insurance offers these tips:
- Check the vehicle’s VIN with appropriate government agencies or your state bureau of motor vehicles.
- Conduct a title search for the vehicle. Simply check the NICB’sVINCheckSM service or obtain a CARFAX Vehicle History Report. These reports can potentially reveal if the vehicle has been involved in a flood, major accident, fire, or uncover odometer fraud.
- Analyze the ownership pattern for any new or late model vehicle with no lien holder.
- Look for information from a vehicle’s current title, including the vehicle's brand history. “Brands” are descriptive labels regarding the status of a motor vehicle, such as “junk,” “salvage,” and “flood” vehicles.
- Engage your sense of smell to detect any damp or musty odors inside the vehicle.
- Are the windows fogged up? Has the carpet or upholstery been replaced or recently shampooed? Pull back the carpet at different areas and look for mud, dirt or signs of water stains.
- Inspect the dashboard underside for signs of mud and dirt. This is a particularly hard area to clean.
- Look under the vehicle for corrosion. It is uncommon to find corrosion in newer vehicles and those that are owned or sold in southern states.
- Open all doors, hood, and trunk to inspect for corrosion, mud and dirt or discoloration on the door frames, hinges and under the weather stripping. Pay special attention to small spaces and crevices that are difficult to clean.
- Check all warning lights, window motors, and all electrical components to ensure they are working properly. While a non-working part alone does not mean the vehicle was flooded, it combined with other difficulties is a cause for concern.
- Always have the vehicle inspected by a quality repair facility prior to purchasing.
- Trust your instincts. If you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away.