Here at Georgia Consumer Lawyer we are familiar with flood damaged cars being sold without disclosure after Katrina, Sandy and others. Now, we urge you to watch for Florence Flooding cars being sold from the North Carolina without disclosure.
It’s been about two weeks since Hurricane Florence lashed the Carolinas with rain measured in feet in some places. Now the task given to the wholesale industry — contending with flood-damaged vehicles — is gaining steam. These cars will begin to be processed through auctions and there are always unscrupulous buyers and sellers willing to skirt laws and attempt to hide flood damage.
According to the National Consumer Law Center, one should make efforts to inspect cars to look for flood damage. One tell-tale sign of flood damage is an unusual smell. So is condensation in the window interiors. Look for stains, waterlines, and upholstery that does not match. Also inspect for rust in places you would not expect, such as seat tracks or fuse boxes. Look for any corrosion on exposed wires. Sand in the trunk is another give-away.
1. Check the outside body panels for waterlines.
2. Check the carpet, upholstery, and inside doors for mud, dirt, damp feeling and discoloration.
3. Check beneath the vehicle’s carpet to see if the pad beneath the carpet is damp.
4. Check for dirt buildup around seat tracks.
5. Check under the dash and in the glove box for dirt or dampness.
6. Look at the owner’s manual. Check to see if the paperwork was ever wet.
7. Waterlines could be visible inside the car. Look at the seats, inside doors and door jams.
8. Smell the inside of the vehicle. A musty or damp smell can be a good indicator of flood damage. Is there an over powering use of air freshener?
9. Make sure all the dash lights are working properly. Do the turn signals work?
10. Check under the vehicle for corrosion, flaking metal underneath.
11. Check inside the engine compartment for waterlines, dirt or mud.
12. Are the headlights or taillights fogging?
13. Check the air cleaner for water.
14. Check the oil to see if there’s a copper or milky color which could indicate water damage inside the engine.
15. Look for water in the spare tire compartment.
16. Look inside the trunk for dampness, dirt or mud.
Carfax and Autocheck vehicle history reports may not disclose previous flood damage. This is because some insurance companies do not obtain salvage or flood titles after paying a claim. A good consumer lawyer would follow the chain of title to see who is the bad actor in the chain and who may have the most reprehensible conduct in reselling the flood damaged car.
Where a dealer sells a used car with undisclosed flood damage, a key party to investigate (in addition to the dealer, prior dealers in the chain of title, an auction and/or a wholesaler) is an insurance company that paid a claim on the vehicle. That company often ends up with the vehicle after paying a total loss claim, and should obtain a salvage or flood title on the vehicle. But an insurer has an incentive to hide the flood damage when it resells the car, or at least sell the car with paperwork that allows the buyer to claim innocence of the flood damage.
Look to see if the insurance company complied with state law as to placing a salvage or flood brand on the title and whether its name appears in the chain of title or whether it skipped title (showing a transfer of title from its insured to the insurance company’s buyer without showing the insurance company ever owning the vehicle). An insurance company’s titling misconduct may lead not only to punitive damages in an individual case, but also to a RICO or UDAP class action if the insurer engaged in a pattern of misconduct, perhaps in conjunction with a salvage auction.
A title search will show all recorded transfers of the vehicle, identifying possible defendants and also indicating when a salvage or flood brand was “washed” off the title or whether such a brand was never obtained. While there is no substitute for such a complete title search, short-cuts should also be utilized, including reports from the new government-run NMVTIS database and private databases, such as Carfax.