Motor Vehicle Division: Be Wary of Hurricane-Damaged Vehicles
HELENA – In the aftermath of hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, state consumer protection and motor vehicle officials are warning Montana consumers about hurricane-damaged cars flooding the used car market – even in Montana.
Tens of thousands of vehicles were damaged this hurricane season, and Dean Roberts, administrator of the Motor Vehicle Division of the Department of Justice, said consumers should thoroughly inspect each vehicle and its title.
“Be patient when you’re buying a car,” Roberts said. “Carefully checking out the car and the title can eliminate problems later.”
Although there is no foolproof way to detect flood damage on a vehicle, Roberts offered a few tips for potential buyers.
- Examine the interior and engine compartment for water, grit, mud, rust, stains or color fading.
- Be sure to check under carpets, under the dashboard and in hard-to-clean areas of the engine.
- Check for mold or a musty odor.
- Look for rust on screws in areas not typically exposed to water, and watch for corrosion in the electrical system.
- Check the underside of the car for excessive rust and flaking.
- Have a trusted mechanic or auto-body expert examine the vehicle.
And Roberts said consumers should always ask to see the vehicle’s title prior to buying. If a dealer says the title is not readily available, he or she should explain why.
“If you see anything suspicious on the title, ask questions,” Roberts said. “Watch for titles from Gulf Coast states, and remember that it’s also possible hurricane-damaged cars may have been moved and retitled in different states.”
Montana consumers who suspect deceptive or unfair practices should call the Office of Consumer Protection at (406) 444-1588.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau has a searchable database of vehicles affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita at www.nicb.org. Consumers must have the vehicle ID number – the “VIN” – from the vehicle’s dashboard, driver’s side door jamb or title documents.
Another vehicle history website has a free flood damage check at www.carfax.com/flood. Consumers will also need the VIN for that search.
And a “storm scan” is available at www.autocheck.com/storm.