- Always check a cars background-In this day and age, this should be an automatic impulse. You should never go out to buy a vehicle without checking its background. Both NICB and CarFax offer free online tools to help spot Hurricane Sandy’s totaled vehicles. With NICB’s VINCheck program, you can check the vehicles history and find out if it comes from a flood background by discovering if the car has been deemed totaled or stolen. With CarFax offers basically the same thing but you will have to pay $40+ dollars to find out the most detailed information like Hurricane Sandy info. Keep in mind that neither of these tools are foolproof as they depend on the honest input. Each have their flaws, as an example, NICB’s database does not include uninsured vehicles and lacks information on about 12% of insured ones. Still, any bit of information that you can get will help you make smarter choices.
- Bring your mechanic to check the vehicle-Obviously not all consumers are mechanics, and pretending that you are a mechanic of sorts will only hurt you in the long run. When you are planning on purchasing a vehicle, grab someone that is a paid mechanic. There are many backyard mechanics but the special things that are being considered after Hurricane Sandy won’t be known to an untrained mechanic. Don’t take any chances. Hopefully you are friends with one because the cost to take a car to a skilled mechanic is somewhere around $100. It would seem that everyone is trying to get in on the Hurricane Sandy fallout. Another warning to watch for, if you tell the seller that you want to run the car over to your mechanics shop so that they can take a look at it and the sellers face turns red and panicked, then let that serve as a sign that this is a crook. Another sign is when you say you want to take it to your mechanic and they say that this low price is a limited time offer, run. This is a scam.
We’ve spent some time talking about what happens to Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina damaged vehicles. But if you have not read those posts, here is a quick snapshot. It’s an unfortunate and unnerving fact that there are thousands of these vehicles from these Hurricanes that are making it into our dealerships and being resold to our consumer market. There is no warning and the title has been washed. Legislation has been trying to pass a law requiring insurance companies to be more honest in their assessment of these vehicle’s, meaning to not pass these vehicle’s as anything other than totaled. State Farm has since entered an agreement as part of a plea deal after having bilked over 30,000 into buying these horribly damaged vehicle’s. When I say thousands, more than 250,000 from Hurricane Sandy alone. The fact that there are dishonest sellers, including dealerships, is unsettling. It’s not just the dealerships, it’s also happening in the private sector. No matter where you go, or who you talk to, you must equip yourself with knowledge, and stay informed.
The worse offense is when someone takes one of these vehicles, cleans it up, and then sells it to an unknowing victim. The National Insurance Crime Bureau is most concerned about these type of sales, but it doesn’t stop there. Some of these vehicle’s sat in four feet of flood water and sewage for days, many, many days; leaving the cars moldy and mildewed. These abusers of the law will get titles that have been “Title Washed”, these will buy the damaged cars on the East Coast and then travel to another state whose laws are lax and get new, clean titles. These vehicle’s, nationwide, have got to be scrutinized and caught before there is an unknowing buyer duped by the seller. This is the goal, but in the meantime……..
The shortcomings of our system have provoked certain groups to warn people about these unsafe vehicle’s that are hitting the market in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, including the National Automobile Dealers Association, which represents car dealers nationwide and companies that sell reports on vehicle histories, like CarFax. There are watchdog groups that say insurance companies sometimes contribute to the problem by underplaying at auction the damage to a car. As a result, in 2005, the State Farm Insurance company reached an agreement with the attorneys general of 49 states and the District of Columbia for failing to properly title cars. From this juncture, State Farm had to reimburse over 30,000 affected customers. State Farm says they are complying with the laws in each state affected by Hurricane Sandy.
All of this will work for the dealerships but it still leaves vehicles being sold over the internet and person to person that bypass official channels. Until the titles themselves are branded with some sort of permanent stamp or mark, there will always be the chance of buying one of these totaled vehicles. As a PDR Technician you may come across vehicles like this quite often, which is very unfortunate. A lot of PDR Technicians will buy a vehicle in auction for their own practice and possible serious restoration. Having the tools and knowledge to start your own business means that you have nothing but options available to you. Hopefully, you to the Total Recon package so that you can really do so much more with a vehicle. If you have the room, I would suggest getting a car from auction to restore. I think I would even go as far as to get a cheap vehicle that in fact has been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. If you can identify and then attempt to fix these vehicles, you will know better than the next guy what can be fixed and what is just a total write off.
In a post coming up soon, we are going to talk about which classic vehicles are the best vehicles for restoration. In addition, my next post will go into detail on how you can tell if a vehicle has suffered as a result of Hurricane Sandy. You will learn the tell tale signs and be better equipped to quote your customers and understand your limitations.
The hardest thing to understand is how or why humans would want to deceive their own kind, or take a tragedy like Hurricane Sandy and spread that tragedy over the entire US looking for suckers, one after the other. These cars that came out of Hurricane Sandy are arriving at auction branded improperly, most have their titles fudged. In most states, cars that are destroyed by flooding are required to have their titles marked, or branded, to indicate that fact. But the crafty can figure out how to clear that branding by doing something called “Title Washing”. What’s worse, unscrupulous dealers pile their purchases on flatbeds and head straight to states like Colorado and Vermont. Really just about any state will work.
Not all states are as blind as most other states to these title-washed vehicles. Officials warned consumers in Georgia, North Carolina and Illinois, where the Secretary of State’s Office is scrutinizing title applications for cars coming in from states affected by the storm.
It’s not as if legislation hasn’t tried to require total-loss status to be permanently affixed to a car’s title, they were trying to pass this before and after Hurricane Katrina, it just never passed. In 2009, the Justice Department introduced the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, a database fed by insurers and states. It contains reports on the movement of cars sold at salvage auctions but is limited by sporadic reporting and incomplete data.
PDR Technicians on the East Coast need to be aware and hyper-sensitive to what is happening in our industry because of the dishonest that are trying to get over on our customers. In addition, how you work on these vehicle’s and if you should tell the owner is very important. For instance, are you obligated by law to report these vehicles? If so, to who? I will research that for a future post. Since no one is taking responsibility for anything, perhaps you don’t have to do a thing.
Perhaps one of the very worse outcomes for the general public, is when the vehicles are sent out of state for the resale markets. Throughout the country, state laws and their inconsistencies, will prevent the information with regards to these vehicles ever getting to the consumer. Even though these vehicles were deemed a total loss by insurance companies, it’s quite easy for dealerships to sell these vehicles without alerting the consumer that this is a vehicle that was completely submerged under seawater. Some dealerships will simply say they didn’t know if you call them on it. There are of course some dealerships that really didn’t know. I’m sure you would agree that it is the responsibility of the dealership to be educated on what to look for when purchasing these vehicles from auction.
Legislative efforts have been drawn up at the state and federal levels, but even they have failed to stem the resale market. The Insurance Crime Bureau has said that over 230,000 cars were damaged by the hurricane, no surprise, predominantly by the ocean water that surged into seaside communities, filling engines and interiors with sand and corrosive saline.
Hurricane Sandy survivors had lined up scores of dead cars all along Cross Bay Boulevard and at crazy angles for weeks after the storm. These served as a reminder of the brute strength of the waves. Even in Lower Manhattan, car owners returned to expensive parking garages on to find their high-end cars were floating in a soup of sewage and river water. Even FBI and Secret Service lost cars. Hurricane Sandy knew no discrimination on who and what it destroyed.
As a PDR Technician, you will need to be able to consult with your customer’s and lead them into buying vehicles that were not in this hurricane and teach them what to look for when buying used cars. These will certainly not be Certified Vehicles so there is that trigger but there are more. Will you know what to do if a customer has a vehicle such as this? How about how to recondition what can be? Follow me in this series and we’ll equip you with the knowledge going forward on what to do.
*Picture from Associated Press.
It’s no secret that Hurricane Sandy left in its wake, devastation to property and life. One that you don’t hear much about is what happened to the vehicles that were submerged in salty ocean water. What did they do with those damaged vehicles? Do they all go to a junkyard or are they bought out by an Auction company that does very little to prepare a vehicle for sale. While people on the east coast understands this better than anyone, it’s the people in the Midwest to the Pacific that don’t consider the damage done to a car because of a hurricane. This was especially a problem when Hurricane Katrina caused the same damage to New Orleans vehicles. These vehicles from both hurricane’s were wrought with a horrible stench that can only come from flooding. Interior upholstery from leather to vinyl is now puckered and all metal fixtures are rusted.
In New Jersey, hundreds of these damaged vehicles showed up on the Auction Block for sale. All have the tell tale signs of Sandy from odor, to interior puckering, and headlight sweating. Buyers from all over the country and nationally come to examine these vehicles for resale at their lots. Upon investigating the buyers thoughts, I found one that came from Nigeria. His purpose and mission was to find totaled vehicles to export to Nigeria, where they are fixed up and resold. Much to his disappointment, these vehicles that suffered the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, were too far gone. The concern of course is that saltwater destroys cars, even when rebuilt they are unsafe.
In spite of the obvious damage, these cars that are earmarked as flood cars, sold hand over fist for prices $2,000 up to $6,000 each. The fate of the vehicles differ greatly from one buyer to another. Some will dismantle the vehicles and attain salvageable parts such as wheels, fenders and more, while others would be melted down for their rubber and steel. Still, there are others that were to be restored, as much as was possible, for resell.