Hurricane Harvey, aside from the ill-preparedness of government and the vast human tragedy that occurred, could hurt people far from the storm if they buy a flood car with a fraudulent or “washed” title. “Submerge your dreams,” says Dani Liblang, founder of The Liblang Law Firm in Birmingham, MI. “The thought of a late model, low priced car is enticing, but even the muffler or certainly the computer from a car submerged in the hurricane waters flooding Houston, Texas, and Louisiana, could be damaged beyond repair.” (See AutoInformed: More Flood Cars Back in Use – Buyer Beware, Waterlogged Flood Cars – Tide Rising as Titles Falsified, Chevrolet Donates Damaged Vehicles to Train First Responders)
“Re-badging” or “title washing” is a federal crime, according to the Department of Justice and should be reported immediately. The Federal Trade Commission’s Used Car Rule requires dealers who sell six or more vehicles to post a Buyer’s Guide form in every used car on the lot. This poster would list all the possible defects that could occur on this vehicle.
Deceptively selling flood cars is illegal, “but that doesn’t stop some used car dealers and mechanics. Cars damaged by Tropical Storm Harvey will be showing up on the lots in the next few months. Be prepared to make sure you don’t drown in a deal that’s too good to be true,” says Liblang.
FTC: Before You Buy a Used Car
Whether you buy a used car from a dealer or an individual:
- Test drive the car under varied road conditions — on hills, highways, and in stop-and-go traffic.
- Ask for the car’s maintenance record from the owner, dealer, or repair shop.
- Determine the value of the vehicle before you negotiate the purchase. Check the National Automobile Dealers Association’s (NADA) Guides, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and Consumer Reports. Some of these organizations charge for this information.
- Research the upkeep costs for models you’re interested in, including the frequency of repairs and maintenance costs.
- Examine the car using an inspection checklist. You can find checklists in magazines, books, and on websites that deal with used cars.
- Check whether there are any un-repaired recalls on a vehicle. Start by asking the dealer if the vehicle you’re considering has a recall. You also can check yourself by entering the VIN at NHTSA, or by calling the its vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236. If there is a recall, ask the dealer to fix it, or to give you information showing it was fixed. Keep in mind that federal law doesn’t require dealers to fix recalls on used cars, so you might need to get the repair done yourself. But don’t wait — according to NHTSA, all safety recalls pose safety risks and, left un-repaired, might lead to accidents.
- Get an independent review of a vehicle’s history. Check a trusted database service that gathers information from state and local authorities, salvage yards, and insurance companies. For example, the Department of Justice’s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) offers information about a vehicle’s title, odometer data, and certain damage history. Expect to pay a small fee for each report. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) maintains a free database that includes flood damage and other information. You can investigate a car’s history by its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You also can search online for companies that sell vehicle history reports. If the report isn’t recent or you suspect that it has missing or fabricated information, verify it with the reporting company. The information in the reports may not be complete, so you may want to get a second report from a different reporting company. Some dealer websites have links to free reports.
- Consider hiring a mechanic to inspect the car.