State officials issued a warning Monday about a potential consequence of Hurricane Matthew: the purchase of flooded vehicles by unsuspecting buyers.
Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Kelly Thomas says hundreds of privately owned vehicles and a number of state vehicles suffered damage during flooding caused by Matthew. Thomas said those vehicles could be easy to sell – especially on the internet.
“Flood-damaged vehicles can be washed, prepped and sold in a disguise that would affect the consumers,” Thomas said. “We want to ensure that the consumers of North Carolina know what to look when purchasing a vehicle that may have been impacted by floodwaters.”
Floodwaters don’t necessarily render cars and trucks unusable, which is why some end up for sale. But a flooded vehicle could develop problems down the line, depending on how deep and how long it was submerged, and buyers need to know what to look for.
J.D. Walters, an inspector with DMV’s License and Theft Bureau, said the first way to check if a car has been damaged by flooding is simple: Smell it.
Walters compared two white 2013 Ford Fusions – one undamaged and one that was flooded following Matthew in Cumberland County – to highlight potential warning signs.
“The best thing to do is open the door, get inside, sit down and smell,” he said. “When a car has been flooded, it has a moldy spell that is almost impossible to get rid of.”
He added that if, on the other hand, the car smells too much like fragrance, then that could be a sign the owner is “trying to mask another smell.”
Walters said next steps include checking to ensure that electronics work, feeling the fabric to see if it is damp and looking for waterline stains. He explained that waterline stains occur when a car has been partially submerged, as the dirt on the top of the water will leave a stain even after the water has gone down.
He noted that there also will be signs of potential water damage under the hood. If water is introduced, then the oil will change colors. A waterline stain could also be apparent under the hood, he said.
Other indicators include trash in the hood, water under the headlights and bubbles within the paint, which suggest rust has been painted over.
Walters said it is important that consumers check the titles of the cars they plan to purchase.
“A lot of these titles are going to be branded ‘water flood damage,’” he said. “So that’s the first way you can tell. In the state of North Carolina, a seller of a vehicle must give the buyer of a vehicle a damage disclosure. One of the questions on that damage disclosure is, ‘Was this vehicle involved in a flood?’ If it was and the seller does not give that disclosure, it is a crime in North Carolina that is punishable by jail time.”
He added that if residents think they have been a victim of buying a flood vehicle, they should speak to their local DMV License and Theft Bureau, which will investigate.
Gov. Pat McCrory echoed the need to be on guard about flooded vehicles, particularly for people who have already been victimized by the hurricane.
“I want to do everything possible to help victims of Hurricane Matthew get back on their feet,” McCrory said in a statement. “Protecting consumers is an important part of the recovery effort in the impacted communities and across the state.”
McCrory has ordered DMV to temporarily waive certain driver license and registration fees in 37 counties affected by the hurricane and subsequent flooding, including Johnston, Harnett and Nash. DMV will not charge driver license fees or vehicle fees for citizens in the affected counties through November 30.
Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629
How to spot a flooded vehicle
▪ Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under carpets, floor mats and headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
▪ Look for fogging inside the headlights and taillights.
▪ Check the oil – vehicles that have been flooded may have gotten water into the engine, resulting in changes in the color of the oil.
▪ Check for a strong odor of cleaning products to mask the smell of mildew.
▪ Check seat belts for moisture, mildew or grime.
▪ Check for mud or grime in small recesses of the engine area, behind wiring harnesses or in small crevices.
▪ Check metal parts for oxidation. Metals will show signs of rust, and copper will show a green color.
▪ Get a vehicle history report. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) offers a free database to check things like flood damage and other information.
▪ Have a mechanic inspect the car.
Source: N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles