Guest editorial: ‘Good deals’ after Florence not so good

October 2, 2018

Scenes of submerged vehicles are again filling the news. A year ago it was Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Now it’s the devastating flooding from Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas.

Harvey and its flooding ruined up to 700,000 vehicles along the Texas Gulf Coast, destroying up to 500,000 vehicles owned by individuals.

As flooding continues in the Carolinas, experts say high water will damage thousands of vehicles.

Kelley Blue Book Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke told The Associated Press the estimate is 20,000 to 40,000 vehicles will be total losses due to Florence, while Anil Goyal, executive vice president of operations at Black Book, which tracks used sales and values, predicts 20,000 damaged or destroyed, maybe less.

The catch in this is that “destroyed” may not mean the vehicles are headed for the junkyard.

In most instances, insurers will turn cars over to auctions or salvage yards. Undamaged parts will be salvaged and many vehicles will be scrapped. Some will go to salvage auctions, says Black Book’s Goyal. Everything that’s ruled a total loss by an insurance company should get a salvage title.

But consumers should be careful. A vehicle considered a total loss in one state might not require a salvage title in another state.

In other words, “destroyed” may not mean destroyed.

Unfortunately, there are people willing to get these vehicles, do what it takes to get them operating, take them to other states and sell them without the purchaser knowing the story of the “good deal.”

Cars damaged by flooding may be cleaned up and moved around the county with no notation of flood damage, even though dealers must disclose in writing if a vehicle has been branded. A brand is a descriptive label assigned to a vehicle that appears on that vehicle’s title. This identifies the vehicle’s current or prior condition, such as junk, salvage or flood.

So, can you spot a flood-damaged car?

According to a 2017 report by Scripps Media, flood damage affects the mechanical, electrical and safety systems of the vehicle. Carfax says telltale signs of a flood vehicle include:

• Upholstery does not match carpet.

• Rust on door hinges.

• Seat belts or inside bolts damaged.

• Musty odor.

• Water lines in engine or trunk.

Carfax provides a free flood check report – but there is the real possibility many of the cars from Florence, as with Harvey, will not be branded as flooded. In that case, a buyer is on his own.

Which leads to the conclusion that applies whether the car is potentially flood damaged or not: Have an expert check out a used vehicle before you buy.

As the Scripps report states: “An inspection could mean the difference between winding up with hunk of junk and a dependable used car.”

— The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg

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