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Attorney General, DMV offers tips to avoid buying flood-damaged vehicles

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Posted at 11:40 AM, Oct 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-04 11:40:03-04

RICHMOND, Va. — In the wake of Hurricane Florence, thousands of vehicles were damaged and destroyed by massive floods along the Carolinas and Virginia.

Attorney General Mark Herring and Virginia DMV are warning consumers to be on the lookout for these flood-damaged vehicles if they are in the market for a new or used car.

More than 325,000 flooded vehicles were put back in use in 2017, according to CarFax.

While state law requires water damage to be reported on a vehicle’s title, dishonest sellers can find ways to circumvent the law.

“If a vehicle is branded as non-repairable, the vehicle cannot be titled in Virginia, but a non-repairable car could be titled in another state. If a Virginian purchases that car and tries to title it in Virginia, the vehicle’s history would show it as non-repairable and the customer couldn’t obtain a title,” according to the Attorney General’s office.

“Before purchasing a vehicle from another individual, make sure to have it checked out by a trusted mechanic and look for any signs of water damage. Above all, trust your instincts – if something seems too easy or good to be true, that means it probably is,” said Attorney General Herring.

Water damage can be hidden beyond visible signs like rust and mold.

“Electrical systems could erode and fail over time. Computer sensors could be damaged and safety protections like air bags could fail in a crash,” said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb.

Before purchasing a vehicle, customers are encouraged to check the vehicle’s history with the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). By submitting the vehicle’s make, model and vehicle identification number (VIN), the service can identify flood-damaged or unsafe vehicles prior to titling.

The fee for NMVTIS is $12 per vehicle. The service is available online or by visiting a DMV office.

Attorney General Herring and Virginia DMV offered these tips that may help detect water damage:

  • Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion.
  • Check for recently shampooed carpet, and check under the floorboard carpet for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water not related to air-conditioning pan leaks.
  • Look for rusting on the inside of the car and under interior carpeting, and visually inspect all interior upholstery and door panels for evidence of fading.
  • Check under the dashboard for dried mud and residue, and note any evidence of mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk.
  • Check for rust on screws in the console or other areas where water would not reach unless submerged.
  • Check for mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, and around the small recesses of starter motors, power-steering pumps and relays.
  • Complete a detailed inspection of the electrical wiring system, looking for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.
  • Inspect the undercarriage or other components for evidence of rust and flaking metal that would not normally be associated with late-model vehicles.
  • Ask a lot of questions and be thorough. Trust your instincts: if you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away.
  • If you are purchasing a used vehicle, always consider having it inspected by a mechanic.