Attorney General Jim Hood is warning Mississippians of the possibility of the sale of flood-damaged vehicles after recent storms in Texas and Louisiana.
“We saw this with Hurricane Katrina and previous flooding disasters in neighboring states,” said General Hood. “That’s why we are warning drivers now of people who use a natural disaster to take advantage of others to make a buck on a car they know is not a safe ride.”
Car buyers should be cautious when shopping at used car markets, particularly after a flood event. Extra inspection should be given to these cars to be sure the vehicle you are buying was not damaged in a storm and being covered up as a deal.
General Hood and his Consumer Protection Division offer these tips when car shopping:
Inspect vehicles carefully, paying attention to hidden areas that could collect mud or silt.
Look for water stains, mildew, or sand under the carpet and floor mats and in the console and wheel well, where the spare tire is stored. Also look for fogging or moisture in the interior lights, exterior lights, and dashboard.
Smell the interior of the car. A heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants could be a sign that someone’s trying to mask a mold or odor problem.
Feel and listen for problems. Have your mechanic inspect the car’s mechanical and electrical components, and systems that contain fluids, for water contamination. Notice if anything feels or sounds unusual.
Understand the difference between “salvage branded title” and “flood branded title.” A salvage branded title means the car was declared a total loss by an insurance company because of a serious accident or some other problems. A flood branded title means the car has damage from sitting in water deep enough to fill the engine compartment. The brand is a permanent record that prints on the title. Therefore, when you are buying a vehicle, be sure to check the front of the title for any brands that provide important information about the condition of the vehicle. Examples of these brands include the following: salvage, rebuilt, flood-damaged, and hail-damaged. The title status is part of a vehicle history report.
Know that some vehicles cannot be titled or tagged. Some states issue Certificates of Destruction on the vehicles that have flooded in their state. If a vehicle has a Certificate of Destruction and/or a brand of “Junk”, “Parts Only” or “Non-Repairable” issued by ANY state, these vehicles cannot be titled or tagged in the State of Mississippi.
Obtain a vehicle history report. The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s free database includes flood damage and other information. Also read through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System reports, which protect buyers from concealed vehicle histories as the only public system that requires insurance carriers, auto recyclers, junk and salvage yards, and states to report vehicle history information.
Do your research. Contact our Consumer Protection Division or the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi to see if they have complaints against the company.
Take time to shop around, and be suspicious of any price that seems unusually high or low.
If you suspect a dealer is knowingly selling a flood-damaged car or a salvaged vehicle as a good-condition, used car, contact your auto insurance company, local law enforcement agency, or Attorney General Jim Hood’s Consumer Protection Division at 601-359-4230 or 800-281-4418.