Bumper Crop of Flood-damaged Vehicles Has NICB Worried About Your Next Car

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
bumper crop of flood damaged vehicles has nicb worried about your next car

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.

Join the conversation
3 of 23 comments
  • PentastarPride PentastarPride on Oct 21, 2017

    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.

  • RS RS on Oct 21, 2017

    "...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?

    • Kurkosdr Kurkosdr on Oct 21, 2017

      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.

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)