Flood cars from Sandy on NC roads with clean titles - WNCT

Flood cars from Sandy on NC roads with clean titles

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The interior of a 2008 Honda Accord flooded during Hurricane Sandy. The interior of a 2008 Honda Accord flooded during Hurricane Sandy.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Cars flooded during Hurricane Sandy are back on the road in North Carolina, and the cars' new owners may have no idea their car was once submerged in ocean water.

More than 230,000 vehicles were flooded as a result of Superstorm Sandy, but instead of heading for the junk yard, many of those cars were cleaned up and put up for sale, including right here in North Carolina.

Many of those flood cars found a new home at insurance auctions just outside Raleigh.

"About half the cars that are damaged typically get resold in any flood event, and Hurricane Sandy was no exception," said Chris Basso, with Carfax.

Basso says there's nothing illegal about an insurance company unloading flooded cars at auction as long as the new owners know about the damage. However, Basso says some unscrupulous dealers often stake out those online auctions looking for some cheap cars so that they can resell the cars at a big profit.

"These are professional con men that are looking for flood vehicles that can be easily cleaned up and show little sign of cosmetic damage," Basso said.

One such example of this is a 2008 Honda Accord that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, but later sold on an auction lot outside of Raleigh. That car's title was branded "salvaged" by New York's DMV in January and sold within a couple of weeks.

"The concerning thing is, is that the vehicle was sold to someone here in North Carolina, but the salvage title from New York did not carry over from North Carolina," Basso said. "Many of the cars that were damaged during Sandy are showing evidence that they're back on the road."

Basso says that's a tell-tale sign of "title-washing," a crime in North Carolina. That's where the owner of a salvaged car takes the vehicle to a new state and fails to disclose that salvage information to the local DMV.

The Honda's vehicle report says it is now registered in Elm City, just outside Wilson. In April, it received maintenance at a Wilson vehicle repair shop.

"It's very likely that the person who has this car actually has a clean title that does not indicate the car was once salvaged due to flood," Basso said. "At some point, that car is going to break down, putting them and their family at risk for serious injury."

WNCN found that the car had been registered to a company called National Fleet Lease, but neither the state Corporation Commission nor the Better Business Bureau has heard of the company.

Other than the Honda, several more floods cars have now been purchased. Basso says making sure you don't end up with one of those ticking time bombs is pretty easy.

"Take a look on the inside of the car. If you see excessive rust on the inside of the car, it could be a sign there was once water inside that vehicle," Basso said. "Feel underneath the dashboard for the wires. If the casing seems brittle or is cracking, that's a clear sign that water could have been in that car."

Attorney General Roy Cooper says used car buyers need to know their rights.

"The first thing you should do when buying a used car is ask the seller directly, 'Is this car flooded?'  By law, they're supposed to tell you," Cooper said. "It's a violation of the law if they do not tell the truth.  Get it in writing."

Pulling up that vehicle history report can be a valuable tool. A flooded vehicle should be labeled as such, but you also want to make sure you inspect the car thoroughly.

"The turn signals, the heater -- check that several times," Cooper said, "and then let an independent mechanic examine it and give you an opinion on the car."

While a flooded car may clean up nicely, saltwater can be corrosive, causing long-term problems to the engine, transmission and electronics.

"These cars rot, literally, from the inside-out and you don't want to be caught driving that car, especially at highway speeds, when one of those systems could fail on you," Basso said.

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Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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