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OMVIC Blog: Car Buying Tips

Steering Clear of Flood-Damaged Vehicles

Sep 12

Tuesday, September 12, 2017  RssIcon


There’s a new danger riding in on a storm for used car buyers—flood-damaged vehicles. “Authorities in the US have told us they expect about half a million vehicles to be flooded as a result of Hurricane Harvey alone,” said Tom Girling, Director of Investigations for OMVIC, Ontario’s vehicle sales regulator. “And they expect many of them will end up being exported—including to Canada.”

A flood-damaged vehicle can be dangerous

The damage caused by flood waters can be difficult to spot and can take months, even years, to show up. If flood waters cause corrosion inside sensitive electronics or safety components, the results could be catastrophic; air bags could fail to deploy in a collision; engines could shut off at highway speeds or steering could fail—these vehicles are not safe for the road.

Many of the vehicles flooded in the US will be properly disposed of by insurance companies, but there will be some flood-damaged vehicles that were uninsured. These vehicles could be dried out, cleaned up and sold off by unscrupulous sellers without recording that history on any documents. And fleet vehicles that were self-insured might not have any record of the damage. “These vehicles will have clean titles and the damage won’t show up on a history report,” explained Girling.

How to protect yourself

These flood-damaged vehicles will be trickling into the market for the next couple of years at least, so it may not be a good time to look for a bargain south of the border. And while we know some of these vehicles will get imported into Canada, either by unsavvy consumers or unethical sellers looking to make a fast buck, there are steps used car buyers can take to protect themselves. Purchasing a vehicle from an OMVIC-Registered Dealer is the safest way to ensure you are not buying a flood-damaged vehicle, as dealers are required by law to disclose:

  • If the vehicle has been branded (irreparable, salvage or rebuilt)
  • If the vehicle has been declared a total loss
  • If the vehicle has been registered in another jurisdiction, and if so, where
  • If the vehicle “sustained any damage caused by “immersion in liquid that has penetrated to the level of at least the interior floorboards”

But there are no regulations requiring private sellers to disclose any of this information. If you are considering purchasing privately, The US National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) have provided these tips on how to spot a possible “flood vehicle”:

  • Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion.
  • Look under carpeting for water residue, rust or stains from evaporated water not related to air conditioning.
  • Check under the dash for dried mud and residue.
  • Check for rust on screws in the console or other areas where water would normally not reach unless submerged.
  • Check the sound system’s speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
  • Look for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, seatbelt retractors, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
  • Inspect electrical wiring and lights (e.g. fog or tail lights) for water residue, rusted components or suspicious corrosion.
  • Inspect the undercarriage and other components for evidence of rust and flaking metal not normally associated with late model vehicles.
  • Check for recently shampooed carpet/upholstery; visually inspect all upholstery and door panels for evidence of fading; and note any evidence of mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk.
    Check the vehicle’s title history by VIN using the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VinCheck, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or a commercially available vehicle history report service, such as Carfax (CarProof). Reports may state whether a vehicle has been flood damaged.
  • Additionally, private purchasers should carefully scrutinize the Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP) that lists all previous owners in Ontario and the dates of ownership. This may help to spot an imported vehicle. And as with any private purchase, have your mechanic inspect the vehicle before turning over any cash.

    Research, research, research!

    Aside from inspecting physical condition, be wary of vehicles priced below market value! Review the UVIP, buy a CarProof report, take your time and protect yourself. These vehicles are coming to market soon—be extra careful—don’t get caught in their wake.

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