Beware of cars damaged in hurricanes

Published Dec 6, 2017 at 4:00pm

We were scanning some out-of-town editorials and came across one that seemed highly informative, not just for folks who were hit by the terrible hurricanes this past season in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, but for just about anyone who drives and encounters wet weather.

It’s from the Lake Charles (La.) American Press on buying damaged cars.

The newspaper notes that Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon recently advised consumers in the used car market to beware of flood-damaged cars.

“Louisiana has been through enough floods to know that the aftermath can bring out scammers and people looking to take advantage of unsuspecting victims,” Donelon said. “Protecting yourself and your finances from vehicles that have been flooded or otherwise damaged beyond repair is important enough that consumers should be willing to walk away from deals that can’t be researched.”

He noted that under Louisiana state law, if a vehicle has been declared a total loss because it has flooded, it cannot be resold.

Any vehicle whose power train, computer or electrical system has been damaged by flooding is a total loss under Louisiana law. The law has an exemption for antique vehicles.

Consumers can check out a vehicle’s history with the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. This system is designed to prevent concealment of flood damage and help consumers research a vehicle’s history.

A list of approved vehicle history report providers can be found on the NMVTIS website at https://www.vehiclehistory.gov/nmvtis_vehiclehistory.html

However, many car owners don’t carry comprehensive auto coverage that covers flood damage, so those vehicle histories may not reflect that they had water damage. Taking extra precautions can save you time and money when buying a used vehicle.

The Louisiana Department of Insurance also offers the following tips:

— Check the vehicle for hidden damage.

— Do your own inspection. Take time to inspect the vehicle yourself or arrange for it to be looked at by a mechanic you trust before purchasing.

— Know the signs of flood damage. Check for water damage to the carpet and remove the spare tire to inspect the area for water damage. Look for rust or corrosion on wires and other components under the hood and check under the dashboard for mud or moisture. You should be suspicious if the carpet smells damp and of mildew.

“Buyer beware,” or “caveat emptor” in Latin, is still wise advice for all consumers, but especially important after a widespread flood with thousands of damaged vehicles still around.