In the wake of the flood-water last hurricane season in Houston and Florida, more waterlogged cars are ending up on California roadway than in years past. The trickle-down effect after a major flood can last for years.
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Facts from the California Bureau of Automotive Repair say the recent floods raise the need to stay informed about safety hazards associated with flood-damaged vehicles.
“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for cars that have spent days under water to be dried out, cleaned, and sold to unsuspecting consumers at car lots all over the country, including in California,” according to a California BAR statement. “Severe water damage can make vehicle’s electrical systems, including their airbag sensors, prone to failure. When a car’s electrical systems have been compromised, it may no longer be safe to drive.”
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), more cars were flooded in Irma and Harvey than Superstorm Sandy and even Hurricane Katrina, leaving more than 600,000 flood-damaged cars in their wake. Some of those cars will get scrapped, others will go back on the road with salvage titles and many will never be reported as water damaged.
In a scheme known as title washing, criminals have found a several of loopholes in state laws to remove the salvage brand from a car’s title. Because every state has its own set of titling laws, title washers will use the differences in state laws to get the salvage mark removed, thus giving the vehicle a clean title.
Title washers also use this tactic for cars that have been in major wrecks. The Los Angeles Police Department handled a case about a buyer who paid $13,000 for a 1995 Lexus with a “clean” state title. Three months later when the buyer took the car in for servicing, he learned his car appeared to have been in a major traffic accident and repaired with parts from Lexus’s of different years, and the repair was not completed by a legitimate service center.
“Buyers must be aware that when the price of a vehicle for sale is too good to be true, then something may be wrong,” LAPD said.
To help buyers know what to look for when buying a used car, the California BAR said typical signs include a musty odor, especially in the trunk; water-spotted upholstery; rusty metal fixtures in the interior; seatbelt retractors that may be hiding moisture, mildew, or grime; mud and debris inside tail lights; and silt around the air filter, according to the California BAR.
Other signs include discolored or painted hood insulation; brittle electrical wiring, grit in the engine compartment; damaged doors, speakers, windshield wipers, radio, and air conditioners; and new or mismatched items, especially in older vehicles.
To help find those things, buyers should have a registered automotive repair dealer carefully inspect the vehicle. Other important vehicle history information is found in a National Motor Vehicle Title Information Search.
Lemon law attorneys help their clients by dealing directly with the manufacturer on the clients’ behalf, working to promptly resolve the issue and get their clients back on the road. Thanks to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, attorneys can seek their fees directly from the manufacturer, meaning a client can obtain legal counsel without having to pay attorneys’ fees directly out of pocket.