NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission is warning consumers looking for a new car to beware of flood-damaged cars and trucks from states affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The Motor Vehicle Anti-Theft Act of 1996 distinguishes between “fresh water flood” vehicles, which can be rebuilt, and “saltwater damaged” vehicles which cannot. Many of the vehicles damaged in the hurricanes will be classified as salt water damage because of the presence of “brackish water,” which is a mixture of salt and fresh water usually caused by backwash of saltwater into bayou areas. Saltwater damage will corrode and eat away at a vehicle’s body and operating components, even after it is cleaned up and repaired.
A vehicle declared a total loss due to salt water damage is deemed non-repairable and cannot be titled again in the state of Tennessee. They can only be dismantled and used for parts.
State officials say scammers often try to sell flooded vehicles quickly after a disaster, hoping to stay ahead of computer system updates so title check systems don’t have time to detect the car’s history.
The Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission is offering the following guidelines:
- Any person selling a flood vehicle is required by law prior to the sale of the vehicle to disclose such to the purchaser. Further, once titling that vehicle, the purchaser will receive a branded vehicle title indicating the vehicle’s salvage history. Having such a title will substantially impact the value of that vehicle for further resale.
- Anyone attempting to purchase a vehicle in the near future should be on the lookout for indicators of a flood vehicle, such as a musty smell, damp carpets, or mud/silt under the seats, and should attempt to find the vehicle history prior to purchasing.
- Use a reputable title check service, such as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, to check the vehicle history. If you find that it was last titled in a flood-damaged area, you should ask a lot of questions before making a decision. Keep in mind that title check companies are only as good as the information that they collect from other sources. Some of the sources that they collect data from may be delayed in pushing their data to the system.
- Remember that a vehicle’s flood history may take up to 30 days or longer to post on traditional consumer reporting sites. As such, the Commission recommends that individuals purchase motor vehicles from a licensed motor vehicle dealer, which they can verify at https://verify.tn.gov.
- Because the vehicle could appear to be in very good shape, even if it has significant electrical and corrosion issues, it’s important to always have a trusted mechanic inspect a vehicle before purchasing it.
- Be aware that there will be many recreational and powersport-type vehicles that have been damaged as a result of the recent storms as well. Look for the signs of flooding and saltwater damage before purchasing these units, too.
- Keep in mind that there are lawful ways of reselling previously damaged vehicles. “Rebuilt vehicles” can be repaired and sold as long as they comply with the applicable laws. The Motor Vehicle Commission requires that licensed dealers provide a disclosure of the vehicle’s history on the Commission approved form.
- “Saltwater damaged” vehicles are non-repairable but can be dismantled and the parts can be sold lawfully through a licensed dismantler/recycler.
- If you suspect a licensed dealer* has sold you a vehicle with a salvage history and failed to disclose it, you may file a complaint here.
- The Commission is not responsible for collecting or enforcing any refunds from unscrupulous sales but may take disciplinary action resulting in potential civil penalties or revocations of dealer licenses.
“These vehicles come on the market so quickly, and there are some people want to sell these damaged vehicles so they can make a quick profit. They are willing to not follow those rules and intentionally sell those vehicles as not damaged vehicles.” said Stephanie Milani, AAA.
Milani says although Tennessee requires sellers to disclose known flood damage, those intent on deception can clean up the more obvious evidence.
Areas that AAA recommends checking:
- Dashboard gauges fogged up
- Test window motors, electrical components, warning lights on dash
- Musty odors
- Recently replaced or shampooed carpet or upholstery
- Under dashboard, behind components under the hood
Rick McGinnis, the service manager at Airport Honda, says one of the tell-tale signs of water damage is the carpet.
“The biggest indication to us that there’s a flood damaged car is the carpet. Carpet is like a sponge it’s much thicker than what you find in a home, due to the sound deadening qualities of it. It will hold a ton of water.” said McGinnis.
McGinnis says for the carpet to air-dry once it’s removed from the interior, could take up to two weeks. He says fixing electrical damage and more is expensive and could take weeks on top of that.
“You don’t want to buy a car that you don’t know anything about or where it came from. See where it originated, you can find that through CarFax.” said McGinnis.
Online, CarFax has a free website for car-buyers to check if the vehicle has any reported flood damage. All that’s needed is the car’s VIN number.
Both Milani and McGinnis say another reliable way to check if a vehicle has water damage: have it checked by a certified mechanic.