SALEM, Ore. - Vehicles damaged by Hurricane Sandy floods on the East Coast are being sold as undamaged across the nation, and a few dozen have shown up in Oregon since the 2012 storm, the Oregon DMV warned Monday.
Sometimes buyers are aware a vehicle was damaged in some way, but they may be unaware the damage was caused by flooding. Often buyers discover the vehicle history when they receive a new title with a "flood damage" brand or "totaled" brand.
"The problem with vehicles damaged by flooding is that they can be cleaned up and appear undamaged," DMV Administrator Tom McClellan said. "But water damage can lead to severe electrical and mechanical problems, mold growth and other problems that show up later – especially with the corrosive effects of salt water, as in Hurricane Sandy."
Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the U.S. Northeast on Oct. 29-30, 2012. It was the deadliest and costliest storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. An estimated 230,000 vehicles suffered damage as a result of Hurricane Sandy and the Northeaster storm associated with it.
As of July, Oregon DMV is aware of 39 title applications for vehicles that received flood damage in Hurricane Sandy. Most of these cars came from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but buyers should take extra care with any used vehicle from states on the U.S. Northeast coast.
"Unscrupulous individuals try to prey on consumers looking for a bargain," said Chris Ratliff, manager of the DMV Business Regulation Section. "Any time a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is. That's particularly true of cars."
People shopping for used vehicles always need to be cautious. In addition to inspecting vehicles thoroughly and opting to have a professional mechanic inspect it, car buyers can use other consumer protection tools and resources.
Used car buyers have some tools available to check the history of a vehicle. DMV suggests that buyers check a car's Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, with the online registry at the National Insurance Crime Bureau:
There are other online tools for buyers as well, including:
There is no guaranteed way to avoid buying a damaged car, yet Oregonians shopping for a used car can reduce their risks by taking a few precautions:
* Inspect the vehicle. Look for signs of water, mud, sand, corrosion or residue in carpet, upholstery, glove box, inside the dash if that's easy to examine, inside tail light fixtures, etc.
* Hire a professional mechanic to inspect a vehicle before purchase.
* Ask the seller to show you the title or ownership document and check for brand notations such as "salvage" or "flooded."
* Shop for a used vehicle among licensed auto dealers, who are eager to avoid damaged cars just as consumers. Oregonians can find out whether a dealer is licensed by visiting the Business Section of www.OregonDMV.com.
Car buyers who later discover that a seller did not disclose information about the condition of a vehicle, such as flood damage, may find it difficult to get their money refunded. They might need to hire a lawyer. Consumers also may download a fraud report form at the Oregon Department of Justice at www.doj.state.or.us or www.oregon.gov/DOJ.