By on October 19, 2017

flooded cars (public domain)

From the Texas coast to Georgia, the southern U.S. took a long-delayed pounding this summer after years of hurricane “drought.” Hurricane Harvey struck, then lingered for days, over the Corpus Christi-Houston area in late August, sending hundreds of thousands of vehicles to the salvage yard. Hurricane Irma followed shortly thereafter, striking Florida before moving up into the southeastern states.

Perhaps aware of Texas’ reputation, Harvey cut the largest swath through the country’s rolling stock, with roughly 422,000 insured vehicles now awaiting salvage auctions. Irma’s wrath adds a further 215,000 to the flood-damaged mix. For the National Insurance Crime Bureau, it’s not necessarily those vehicles that are leading to restless nights — it’s ones with owners unable to make an insurance claim.

The vehicles filling insurance salvage yards, bound for processing and a date with an auction (under a salvage title), will end their lives divied up for useable components and scrapped. VINs will find their way to National Motor Vehicle Title Information System and NICB database, identifying the car as flood damaged. However, many vehicles owned by those without flood insurance aren’t on those lots.

It isn’t known how many uninsured vehicles slipped below the waves in Harvey and Irma, but those VINs won’t show up on a database unless the owner asks for a branded title. The NICB worries those unbranded cars and trucks will fall into the hands of unsuspecting new owners.

“Some unscrupulous buyers will also buy a branded vehicle, clean it up, and take it to another state where they will obtain a “clean” title and sell it with no warning that it has been flooded,” the NICB warns.

Due to the very real possibility of a huckster selling secretly damaged goods, the NICB has issued a warning about the practice, complete with a list of guidelines for identifying a flood-damaged vehicle. Much of this seems like a no-brainer, but many buyers could be too blinded by a smokin’ deal to notice mud accumulation in various parts of the engine bay, water stains on the seats, moisture in the taillights, or water damage in the spare tire well.

There’s a tip line available (800-835-6422) if you suspect you’re being taken for a water-logged ride. As for the original owners, their old vehicle — especially if it was subject to an insurance claim — is a fading memory. There’s still hurricane deals to be had on new vehicles from a variety of automakers.

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23 Comments on “Bumper Crop of Flood-damaged Vehicles Has NICB Worried About Your Next Car...”

  • avatar

    I know it’s not always 100% accurate, but if Carfax shows the car was anywhere in Texas, Florida, Georgia, etc in 2017, don’t buy it. Pretty easy way to avoid this stuff. But that takes a little time and effort which means 65% of the public won’t do it.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Good advice, if you trust Carfax (I don’t).

      But unfortunately, *most* vehicles from those states were not destroyed, yet their trade-in values could be seriously harmed in a guilt-by-association sort of way.

      • 0 avatar

        Like I said it’s not 100% accurate, but pretty close. If you see a car bought in Texas, registered in Texas, serviced in Texas for 5 years on Carfax….pretty good chance it was in Texas during that time. Generally if I am looking at used cars, if it doesn’t have service records, I’ll skip over it anyhow.

        And yeah it sucks that millions of perfectly good cars from those states will be shunned by used car buyers. But life isn’t always fair.

        • 0 avatar

          Little known fact: Texas is HUGE. Condemning all cars in Texas is… probably condemning the majority of cars that never saw a flood.

          • 0 avatar

            Hey, it sucks that those non-damaged cars are stuck associating with damaged cars…but all the buyer can do is play the odds.

            A car that was bought in Utah and lived its entire life in Utah? Safe. A car from Texas?

            Are YOU willing to gamble that much coin, from your own pocket, out of some sense of “fairness to the other cars in Texas”???

        • 0 avatar
          George B

          A little knowledge of geography helps in this situation. Texas has 254 separate counties. Check the pattern of vehicle registration to see if the car was registered in one of the counties in the Harvey flood zone or not. If it’s old enough to only have liability insurance and it was never registered anywhere near the area that flooded, it’s no more likely to have flood damage than if it was from Oklahoma.

      • 0 avatar

        While I don’t trust Carfax to show every wreck they are pretty good about having a chain of license renewals and transfer of title records, though not always up to the minute. So definitely reason to be suspicious if I saw a chain of Houston area renewals on a car that just popped up at a dealer’s lot in Seattle.

        The reality is that many cars will head to states far away in hopes that the buyers, be they retail or wholesale, won’t be on the lookout for signs of flood damage.

        But lots of cars weren’t affected and I bet there will be some general loss of value due to guilt by association.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, then, every car seller from TX and FL are going to take at least a little hit on the resale value of their car for the next year or so, regardless of any flood damage. Guilt by association.

    • 0 avatar

      Texas is a very large state and Carfax shows the city the vehicle was registered in. I wouldn’t be any more afraid of a car from El Paso than one from Nashville.

    • 0 avatar

      Nothing like a false sense of security to make you feel good about buying someone else’s problem car.

  • avatar

    Folks around here in Ohio have been spoiled somewhat for the last several years without many major hurricane events. For many years the timeline was: hurricane coming, Lowes/Home Depot/84 Lumber/local lumber yard astronomically raises prices on plywood and osb, all plywood and osb gone within three days and heading south, hurricane hits, and, four to six months later, the local BHPH lots are full of fantastic late-model deals. And, no, you cannot trust CarFax or any of the others to help you.

    • 0 avatar

      Have to say the Home Depots around here certainly did not raise prices during Hurricane Sandy. Plywood and OSB (ugh why would anybody use that crap) prices do rise when big demand cuts supply but raise prices during the storm prep? Never saw that here…

      • 0 avatar

        OSB used to be cheaper than plywood, but now it’s about the same. 2 years ago 7/16 OSB was about $10/sheet, now it’s $19.75 while 15/32 plywood is 10 cents more/sheet. Might as well get plywood for that price!

  • avatar

    Due diligence is always needed regardless where the car is from. I would never buy a used car that has been registered up North due to rust issues. Buying a car from the South would never bother me. I had my Florida cars up North for 5 years and when I traded in one of them, CarMax wasn’t pleased by the amount of rust stains found underneath. They were very confused as why such a car that was always registered in Florida shows so much rust underneath.

  • avatar

    I’m actually on the look out for a flooded 2004-2008 RX-8 6MT… I need a parts car for mine.

  • avatar

    Before buying any used car, have it inspected by a trustworthy mechanic who has no conflict of interest. Flood damage is just one of many reasons to reject a candidate. I’d also be worried about a brand new car that an unscrupulous dealer dried out and offered for sale.

    • 0 avatar

      ^correct answer. A competent mechanical inspection will tell you far more than a CarFax ever could.

      The “avoid all cars from Texas” routine is like avoiding becoming friends with a blonde female coworker because your blonde ex-wife was a total b¡tch. Sure, you may never be hurt by a blonde woman again, but you also aren’t treating people who aren’t your ex fairly, and quite possibly depriving yourself of a meaningful friendship/etc.

      So, go buy your rusty, wrecked-but-not-reported Camry from Maine and rest assured it wasn’t in Houston because CarFax said so.

  • avatar

    I always have and always will buy used, 3-5 year old cars (well, at least my daily drivers anyway. My Ram 2500 was almost 11 years old when I bought it in late August but it was owned by the guy since he bought it new in 2007. It came with a folder full of receipts and paperwork).

    Besides a thorough check by a mechanic you trust, the trick is to buy it from the original owner and insist on maintenance records. All receipts have a date and the name/address/phone of the shop or dealer, so those are good indicators. Some shops even record the car’s VIN on the paperwork. Of course, there is a very small possibility the owner took a trip into the affected state(s), but that is why you pay $300 or thereabouts for a mechanic to check the entire car.

  • avatar

    “…and take it to another state where they will obtain a “clean” title and sell it with no warning that it has been flooded..?

    Why do some states still allow ‘washing’ of salvage titles?

    • 0 avatar

      There is this loophole called a “mechanic’s lien”. Basically if the owner of a car fails to pay the service costs to the mechanic for a period of time, the mechanic can get a new title on the car which is clean in his name.

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