2006-02-03 / Community

DMV Warns On Water Damaged Used Cars

New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), joined by the Consumer Protection Board (CPB), today cautioned motorists about purchasing a new or used vehicle that may have flood damage as a result of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. While no major examples of hurricane damaged cars have appeared in New York, other states have evidenced their appearance.

“New York State motorists should safeguard themselves from purchasing damaged vehicles in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma,” said DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner Renato Denato, Jr.

“While at first glance vehicles may appear to be in good condition, motorists should be looking for potential problems that are not readily detectable upon first inspection. The best way motorists can protect themselves is to have a licensed mechanic perform an inspection for signs of potential damage.”

“What might look like a great bargain may actually be a water-soaked lemon,” said CPB Chairperson and Executive Director Teresa A. Santiago. “Don’t rush into a car purchase without first taking advantage of the resources available today to help consumers learn the history of a used car. Before you spend your money, spend the time to discover exactly what you’re buying.”

There have been reports from across the United States that cars damaged in the hurricane-related floods of last summer are showing up in used car lots. Motorists who are in the market for a used car should beware of flood-damaged cars that have been declared a total loss by insurance companies primarily following the flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi. Some estimates reveal that hundreds of thousands of cars that were submerged will be “totaled” by insurance companies and then sold at auction. Some salvage operators and dealers will clean up the cars and resell them, trying to hide the fact that the vehicles have been damaged. Many of these cars are shipped far from the original flooded area, so motorists should not assume a car they are looking at could not be a flooded car just because they do not live near flooded area. Be especially cautious if the sales price seems like a real bargain.

Many motor vehicle experts note that once a car has been submerged in salt water it can never really be repaired and should not be driven again. But it is possible that hundreds of thousands of these cars will find their way back into the market. In some cases the original owner did not have insurance and is desperate to recoup some of the loss while some unscrupulous auto recyclers may buy wrecked cars as scrap, then clean them up, re-title them in another state and offer them for sale.

After salt water has soaked the electrical and electronic components, motor vehicles are never again completely reliable. For the most part, since today’s cars are dependent on computers for virtually every aspect of their proper operation, flood damage can cause a large range of problems. The car might be difficult to start. It might get poor gas mileage or poorly accelerate. Its ride and steering might be affected. The airbag sensor might not work properly leaving a motorist unprotected in an accident. These are only a few examples of the kinds of problems drivers might experience.

The DMV and CPB offer these tips to motorists when purchasing a


Check for dried mud, rust, metal flaking or mold under the dashboard and the undercarriage of the vehicle using a flashlight to check areas that are not easily visible;

Inspect the engine compartment making sure to examine wires, the alternator, starter motor and power steering for evidence of mud and residue;

Be aware of musty odors as carpets that were recently shampooed may reflect an attempt to conceal an odor;

Look for rusting on the inside of the car, particularly door panels as faded door panels may signal that a car was submerged in water;

Examine the electrical wiring system, in particular for rusted components, water residue and signs of corrosion. A radio that does not work, air bags that do not deploy or lights that stay on may indicate potential flood damage; and

Search the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The National Insurance Crime Bureau provides a free search through its website ( www.nicb.org ) of some cars that were damaged during the hurricanes and services such as Carfax can also provide a history of the vehicle.

In New York State, every automotive dealer must register with the DMV and must obey state and federal laws that protect the purchase of a new or used car, truck or other motor vehicle, including one sold as “salvage.” New vehicles are also protected by manufacturer’s warranty.

When selling a used vehicle, a dealer must certify in writing that it is “in condition and repair to render, under normal use, satisfactory and adequate service upon the public highway at the time of delivery.”

The dealer certification covers the entire vehicle except items that would be obvious to the customer before the sale, such as torn upholstery, missing hubcaps, etc. The vehicle also must have all safety equipment and emissions controls required by state and federal laws for the vehicle’s model year.

Before purchasing a vehicle, trailer, boat, snowmobile or an ATV through a private transaction, potential owners should receive acceptable proof of ownership. A bill of sale with the year and make of the vehicle, boat or ATV, the VIN or the hull identification number (HIN), the date of the sale, the purchase price of the vehicle or the boat, and the names and signatures of the buyer and the seller serves as acceptable proof of ownership. If the acceptable proof of ownership is not available, an owner may not be able to register the vehicle or get a title certificate or transferable registration.

If a salvaged vehicle is rebuilt for use on roadways, the DMV must examine it before issuing a new title certificate or registration.

Federal and state laws require that a person or dealer who sells a rebuilt salvage vehicle that is eight model years or newer must also provide the new owner with a disclosure statement. The disclosure statement is located on the back of New York State title certificates that display a print date of “12/94” or later.

For vehicles with an out of state title or a New York State title without the disclosure statement, sellers must complete a salvage disclosure form, which can be found on the DMV’s website ( www.nysdmv.com ). Failure to disclose the salvage history of a vehicle may result in a maximum fine of $2,000 along with additional penalties as provided by State law.

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