Consumers Warned Not to Buy Storm-Damaged Cars

MORGANVILLE, N.J. (AP/Hamodia) -

With a nearly 6,000 percent spike in flood-damaged and salvage vehicle titles processed in the past three months, New Jersey officials are warning would-be car buyers to be careful about buying vehicles that may have been damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

“With so many vehicles that were damaged by the recent storm potentially being resold in the future, it’s important that the public be well-informed about what to look for when shopping,” said MVC Chairman and Chief Administrator Raymond P. Martinez. “Having easy access to this information allows buyers to protect themselves against individuals who would try to circumvent the law and not fully disclose the true condition of a vehicle.”

It is not illegal to sell a vehicle with either a flood or salvage title, but the status of such vehicles must be disclosed to potential buyers by law.

“Anyone who attempts to hide the fact that a car or truck has a flood-damaged or salvage title from potential buyers is breaking the law,” Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said. “We will go after those who attempt to enrich themselves by defrauding consumers into believing a vehicle is problem free when, in fact, is has a flood-damaged or salvage title.”

If a motor vehicle has suffered sufficient damage to render it economically impractical to repair or has been rendered a total loss by an insurer, the person in possession of the title is required by law to surrender it to the MVC, who will then issue the vehicle a “salvage title.” Salvage vehicles cannot be registered for the purpose of being driven on the public highways of New Jersey except to go to and from an inspection appointment at an MVC facility.

The Division of Consumer Affairs has added an online database where consumers can look up a vehicle by make, model, year, or vehicle identification number to check for any flood damage. The database has more than 13,000 vehicles in it so far.

Before purchasing a used vehicle, consumers are advised to:

  • Check the vehicle’s title history. Be wary if the vehicle has been titled multiple times over a short time period.
  • Obtain a vehicle history report.
  • Look for an insurance company’s name on the title history, and contact the company for vehicle information.
  • Check that a dealer is licensed by the MVC.
  • Have their mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection of the vehicle.

Consumer Affairs can provide information on any past actions it taken against a dealership and whether consumers have filed complaints about a dealership.

Among the telltale signs that a vehicle may have sustained flood damage are:

  • A musty or moldy smell or the strong scent of a deodorizer
  • Rust on metal parts where water would not normally touch;
  • Water-stained upholstery or water damage on the door panels or seat belts; and
  • Mildew, silt or debris in areas around the engine compartment, under the carpeting or in the trunk.

Consumers who suspect any form of consumer abuse can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by calling 1-800-242-5846.