COLUMBUS – Ohio Department of Insurance Director Jillian Froment issued a consumer alert urging Ohioans to be cautious in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma when purchasing a used vehicle. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates one million refurbished vehicles with concealed flood damage could appear on the market outside of hurricane-hit areas.
“We are stressing to consumers the importance of becoming more informed about the used vehicle they are considering,” Froment said. “Obtaining a vehicle history report and enlisting a trusted mechanic to conduct an inspection are strongly recommended. Flood damage can compromise computer and safety mechanisms and also likely make the vehicle uninsurable.”
A flood-damaged vehicle is often declared a total loss by an insurance company. They are typically sold at salvage auctions for parts but resale is permitted if flood damage is declared on the vehicle’s title. While every state does not have a flood-damage declaration requirement, Ohio has instituted that added consumer protection.
How Ohioans can protect themselves:
Obtain a vehicle history report
The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, overseen by the DOJ, allows consumers to find information about a vehicle, including related to its title, odometer reading and brand history. A “brand” is a descriptive label that states assign to a vehicle to identify the vehicle's current or prior condition, such as with “junk,” “salvage” or “flood” designations.
This nationwide database provides information required to be reported by state motor vehicle departments, insurance companies, salvage auto auctions, automobile recyclers, and junk and salvage yards about total loss and junk/salvage vehicles. Visit https://www.vehiclehistory.gov/nmvtis_vehiclehistory.html.
Have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle
Check the engine for a high water mark on the block or radiator, which is a clear indication that the car has been flooded. Look for rust or corrosion on wires and other components under the hood. Be suspicious if the carpet smells damp or of mildew. Be leery of new carpet in older vehicles. If the seller says they have lost the title, do not purchase the vehicle.
Flooded vehicles often end up at car auctions. Shop at a reputable dealership or get a full inspection prior to purchasing a vehicle.
Ask the dealer for a report with a detailed history of the car. If you are not purchasing the vehicle from a dealer, you can still obtain the information. Comprehensive vehicle history reports are generated from the vehicle identification number (VIN). Start with the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s free VINCheck at https://www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck. Additional options include Carfax, Auto Check, and VinAudit.
People with insurance questions can contact the Ohio Department of Insurance at 1-800-686-1526 or visit www.insurance.ohio.gov. The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles can answer vehicle title questions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or live chat at www.bmv.ohio.gov. You can also call 614-752-7671.