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Beware of flooded vehicles, Ga. officials warn

Cars damaged in Superstorm Sandy may be resold

POSTED: November 26, 2012 12:05 a.m.

The effects of natural events and disasters aren’t just limited to the place they occur.

The impacts can often be felt in the auto industry as well.

“We truly live in a global economy and that is demonstrated by the automobile industry,” said Butch Miller, general manager of Milton Martin Honda.

In the last few years, tsunamis, tornadoes and earthquakes have all made their mark on the industry.

Georgia officials are warning people shopping for a new car to beware of flood-damaged vehicles in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

The attorney general’s office and the Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection warned that many previously flooded vehicles get sold at auction and then may be sold at used car lots or through online classified ads.

Insurance companies in other states may write off flooded cars as “salvage” or “totaled,” but that may not appear on the titles. Electrical problems are likely, and the brakes, airbags and computer systems may also be seriously compromised.

Some vehicles may have noticeable signs of flood damage like a musty odor or prematurely flaking metal. Rust, mud or grit may be hidden in crevices where water wouldn’t normally reach, and water marks may even be visible on fabric.

The state warns consumers to check the upholstery, dashboard, glove compartment, trunk, doors and engine area for signs of damage. Some vehicles may even have drainage holes beneath the car.

However, with a little work, like new upholstery and carpeting and minor body work, these flood-damaged vehicles may be disguised enough that a professional could have difficulty noticing the damage.

“The people who pass off these cars are very skilled and it’s one of those situations where they have a lot of time to pass off the car making it seem road-worthy,” Miller said.

Miller said one of the best ways to avoid buying a damaged car is to buy through a reputable dealer who will thoroughly check the vehicle for any damage and turn it down if the repairs needed go beyond simple reconditioning like repainting a bumper or correcting dents and scratches.

“Buy from (a) reputable dealer so if you have a problem you can go back and work with that dealer to solve the problem,” Miller said.

If consumers are looking at a vehicle being sold online or through a classified ad, they should have a trusted mechanic examine a vehicle closely, being sure to check gauges, condition and flexibility of wires, ignition, lights, wipers, air conditioner, heater and all other accessories.

Car shoppers should ask to see the title before signing anything and should run the vehicle identification number into the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, a national database used by insurers. Reports range in cost from $3 to $13.

Several online services can provide more information about a vehicle’s history. However, damage not reported to the insurance company may not appear in the vehicle’s history report.

When looking at a vehicle’s history, consumers should pay attention to the chain of ownership and any major repairs the vehicle may have had.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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