Rokita: Be careful not to buy flood damaged cars
Attorney General Todd Rokita is warning Hoosier consumers to watch out for flood damaged vehicles when purchasing used cars.
Hurricane Ida recently caused widespread and devastating flooding across much of the southern United States. As affected communities begin to recover from the damage, car buyers across the country, including in Indiana, should be aware of the likelihood that an increased number of flood damaged vehicles will be offered for sale. .
“We take action every day against the people who victimized Hoosiers by engaging in deceptive and unfair marketing practices,” said Attorney General Todd Rokita. “But we also insist on education and awareness to help Hoosiers avoid becoming victims in the first place.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, tens of thousands of vehicles were likely overwhelmed by the flooding. Before Hurricane Ida, there were already nearly half a million vehicles damaged by flooding on American roads. This number is now likely to increase dramatically.
The damage caused to a vehicle by flooding is often catastrophic, and even if the most obvious damage is repaired, the vehicle can suffer lasting effects. In addition to cosmetic and engine damage, flooding can bypass a vehicle’s electrical system and compromise safety features such as airbags and anti-lock brakes. Flooding can also cause a mold and mildew infestation that can lead to health problems for passengers long after a vehicle has been submerged.
If a vehicle is damaged by a flood, its title must be marked as “salvage” or “flood damage”, and such title mark must be disclosed in writing to a purchasing consumer. However, some flood damaged vehicles do not have such a title mark due to fraudulent activity. These unbranded vehicles will be moved to states across the country, including Indiana, and sold to unsuspecting consumers. With the current shortage of used car inventory, unscrupulous sellers are likely to be even more aggressive in bringing flood damaged vehicles to market.
To reduce the risk of unknowingly buying a flood damaged vehicle, consumers should follow these steps before making a transaction:
- Ask the dealer to provide a vehicle history report. If the dealer refuses to provide such a report, purchase one yourself. Consumers can get a vehicle history report from a variety of sources, such as Carfax, Autocheck, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, or the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
- Check the vehicle history report to see if there are any title marks posted on the vehicle, such as “salvage”, “reconditioned”, “trash” or “flood damage”. Also note on the report the state or geographic area where the vehicle was last titled or registered to determine if the vehicle was recently located in an area affected by flooding.
- Ask to see the vehicle title, or a copy of the title, and check to see if the title includes any title markings, including “salvage”, “reconditioned”, “trash” or “flood damage”.
- Inspect the vehicle closely for any signs of flood damage by verifying that all electronic components, including the heater and air conditioning, are operational. Look for any signs of mud or rust anywhere on or in the vehicle, including the engine compartment. Check for discolored or moldy carpet. Note if the vehicle has any strange smells. Beware of a vehicle that smells musty. The aroma of disinfectants and heavy cleaners can also be an indicator that someone has tried to mask a mold or odor problem.
- Take the vehicle for a test drive.
- Have the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic of your choice before purchase. Specifically ask the mechanic to check for any signs of flood damage.
If a consumer suspects that a recently purchased vehicle has been damaged by flooding and such damage was not disclosed prior to sale, the consumer should file a consumer complaint at www.in.gov/attorneygeneral.