Hurricane sufferers of Katrina and Rita who have already been displaced
from their homes and lives, are now being further victimized by
swindlers who are looking to take advantage of them, especially women,
by an illegal car selling scam that involves flood damaged cars.
The scam involves selling flood damaged cars, especially to a large percentage to women that are supposed to be crushed or shredded due to unrepairable water, ecoli and mold damage. These scam artists are looking to take these individuals limited funds and in return provide them flood-damaged vehicles that are an unsafe to drive.
These vehicles have damaged components like seat belts, airbags and the electrical systems. The flood damaged automobile also poses a health hazard, because they contain ecoli, mold and corrosion which is unhealthy to breathe and touch. Children are at the most risk from ecoli.
Do these cars really get into the marketplace? Oh yes
they do! State Farm Insurance recently settled a $40 million lawsuit
when it was disclosed that the insurer had dumped almost 30,000 totaled
cars at auction without bothering to have them retitled as salvage
vehicles. Many of the vehicles will be shredded into little metallic
pieces. However, other will end in auctions or sent to other states
before it gets to your state. This is called washing titles. And then
there are the cars owners that didn’t have insurance coverage, they
will sell off their vehicles to attempt to recoup the losses.
The best thing would be for all the states to adopt a uniform title form that would spell out in plain language if the car was flood-damaged, fire-damaged, junked, scraped or whatever.
isn’t the government doing anything to stop this problem? We need to
take a stand and protect consumers from these death traps. Sadly,
these scams affect a large percentage of women, because women make 85%
of the buying decisions.
As a female automotive expert, I’m dedicated to helping women to be empowered. To empower all drivers here are some answers to your questions from recent appearances on CNN, CNN Headline News and numerous TV, radio and print articles.
The Car Coach® Answers Viewers Questions About Flood Cars
What should I do if my car has been under water?
First, contact your insurance company. Next, evaluate the height of the floodwaters around your car. If floodwaters reached the mid-point of the tire or higher, do not start your car because that may cause more damage. Once the floodwater subsides, get your car towed and send it to an ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) certified technician who can look for unseen damage. Your insurance company may have specific requirements on where to send your car so make sure to ask your agent.
At what point is the car not repairable?
The reality is, if the water has reached that midpoint on your tire, you most likely want it to be declared a ‘total loss’. Once an automobile has been flooded, the entire electrical system becomes questionable – and many critical systems are located on the bottom of the car. Water has a way of ruining electronic components, especially for vehicles equipped with a computer controlled engine management system.
Again, do not start the car and owners should find an ASE certified technician to determine further damage. Vehicles that have been completely under water should be destroyed. If the car has been sitting in salt water – consider it a total loss. Saltwater destroys paint, rubber, electrical wiring, metal and all upholstery.
What if I don’t have my insurance papers?
Notify your automobile insurance company through its toll-free number. If the car is under water or partially submerged, identify any items that may be damaged and relay that information to your agent.
How do insurance companies typically determine my car’s value?
A car's value is determined after it's declared a 'total loss.' Once that is decided, each company has its own proprietary list of car values and specialized software for valuing cars in each region. Auto insurance companies don't use the standard Kelley Blue Book or National Association of Automobile Dealers book value, but they do take into consideration the car's mileage and pre-accident condition. The insurance company may also get comparative price quotes from local dealers, but their prices are generally lower than those you would see when you walk onto the lot.
What if I disagree with my insurance company's value?
There are several things you can do. First and foremost, if you have maintenance records that show the car was in good condition, such as oil changes every 3,000 miles or routine check-ups by a mechanic, copy those records and present them to the insurance company. Include any information on special parts or upgrades done after the purchase of the car.
Try getting price quotes on replacement cars from at least three dealers within a reasonable driving distance or on internet and submit those to your insurance company. Also, ask the insurance company to provide you with a list of dealers within a specific distance who can sell you a comparable vehicle.
If you still aren't satisfied, you can step up the process and go to mediation or arbitration, which means presenting your case to a neutral party for assistance in reaching a compromise or, in arbitration, a binding decision.
Where should I start my search for another vehicle?
A great place to begin your search is on the internet, websites like eBay Motors and AutoExtra.com have a great variety of vehicles listed from across the country in all price ranges. Most local libraries offer free internet access. For people returning to areas not devastated by Katrina the dealerships will likely open soon.
How can I avoid buying a car with previous flood or accident damage?
It is common that unscrupulous sellers will attempt to pass flooded vehicles as undamaged to unsuspecting and careless buyers – and there will always be cars with undisclosed accident damage on the market. Now, more than ever, buyers have tools to protect themselves from unseen or covered damage like getting a detailed vehicle history report like CARFAX and look for certified used cars.
Other tips to avoid buying flooded cars:
•First, buy from reputable dealers.
•You can find great vehicles buying from private sellers but beware of “curbstoners” – people who sell numerous cars claiming to be private sellers and therefore avoid basic government oversight and no Lemon Law coverage.
•Avoid auctions – online or otherwise – unless you are experienced with them.
•Check to make sure the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) match on the door sticker and the dashboard tag.
•Carefully inspect the inside of the car looking for watermarks on door panels, radiators, wheel wells and seat cushions.
•Look for rust on unusual places like door hinges, hood springs, under dash brackets, trunk latches.
•Look for water and moisture inside exterior lighting.
•Beware of cars with new or mismatched upholstery.
•If the car has is a paper air filter, check it – if it has water stains the car has likely been flooded.
•Ask the seller if the vehicle has had flood damage – sounds simple, but answers like “not to the best of my knowledge” or “the previous owner didn’t tell me of any flood damage” are red flags. Get the answer in writing with the bill of sale.
•Ask to see the title – if it is not stamped “flood” or “salvage”, get the car’s history to find out if has come from a recently or previously flooded area of the country.
When buying your next car, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Do your homework.
There used to be a common misconception among car buyers that when purchasing a used car, owners inherit the previous problems of that vehicle. That is no longer the case. With certified used vehicles and services like CARFAX Vehicle History Report, consumers can rest assured they are buying a reliable vehicle.
In addition, contact your local dealer of that manufacturer, and ask the service department to run the vehicle identification number (VIN) to see if there are any recalls or technical service bulletins that may or may not have been performed. Also ask if there were any major repairs. If you can get receipts for any maintenance or repairs to this vehicle, it will help you decide whether the car was taken care of or just driven hard.
2. Newer is generally better.
Newer models - those less than six years old - generally offer updated safety features and better crash protection. That means the car will sacrifice itself for the driver, and not the other way around. On any model, however, look for anti-lock brakes, dual front air bags and side impact airbags.
3. Know all the facts.
If you are purchasing a vehicle with an insurance check, make sure you know all the details. Call your insurance agent before you purchase a new car to review the exact compensation amount for your destroyed property.
About Lauren Fix
The Car Coach
Lauren Fix, the Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert in car care, repair, safety issues, buying and selling new and used cars and trucks, and driving skills.
She has written articles and been quoted in USA Today, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Woman’s World, Esquire, First for Women, InTouch and Self. She is a contributing editor to Motor Trend, Truck Trend, Hot Rod, and Car Craft. In addition, Lauren is the Automotive Editor for YourLifeMagazine.com and author of two books, Driving Ambitions: A Complete Guide to Amateur Auto Racing and The Performance Tire and Wheel Handbook.
Lauren’s broadcast experience includes Oprah, The View, TODAY, The Early Show, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, Inside Edition, ESPN, Discovery, Speed, and NPR. Lauren is the host of Talk 2 DIY Automotive, on the Do-It-Yourself Network (DIY), providing in-depth demonstrations and tips for auto repair.
A member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) since 1975, Lauren is an ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified mechanic. She inherited her love of all things automotive from her father who owned a brake remanufacturing business. Lauren has been fixing, restoring and racing cars since the age of 10.
She has a bachelor of science in Marketing from The University of Buffalo.
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Lauren has been the spokesperson for the Car Care Council for four years.
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