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Dealer’s Voice: Beware of flood damaged vehicles

Hurricane Sandy affected tens of thousands of vehicles, and the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC) is warning consumers to be aware.

Published November 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy dealt a devastating blow to parts of the northeast U.S., causing billions in property damage and resulting in nearly 100 deaths.

One of the unfortunate realities of natural disasters is the criminal element that attempts to profit from the misfortune of others.

According to , Hurricane Sandy affected tens of thousands of vehicles, and the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC) is warning consumers to be aware of storm- and flood-damaged vehicles that could wind up in Ontario.

The influx of flood-damaged vehicles from the U.S. into Canada isn’t a new phenomenon. It happened after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The problem with a flood-damaged vehicle is that water could enter a vehicle’s electronic components, which could cause corrosion or the malfunctioning of safety items. In Ontario, such a vehicle is assigned “irreparable” status by the Ministry of Transportation, meaning it can’t be licensed. It can only be used for scrap or parts.

Vehicles that are assigned irreparable status pose a health and safety risk to the driver, passengers and other motorists.

In Ontario, mandatory vehicle branding took effect in 2003. The program assigns a branding designation to vehicles that have been damaged to the point of total loss. For more information about branding types, visit www.mto.gov.on.ca.

But branding a vehicle irreparable isn’t as thorough in the U.S. as it is in Ontario. As a result, some flood-damaged vehicles could be transferred to states that don’t have proper branding designation laws.

Since laws in some states don’t require irreparable status, the true condition and history of flood-damaged vehicles wouldn’t have to be revealed to potential buyers.

According to OMVIC, another concern is that some flood-damaged vehicles may not have been insured for that type of damage or loss. Consequently, these vehicles aren’t reported to insurance companies, thereby avoiding the branded label.

Owners of these flood-damaged vehicles could dry them out and attempt to sell them to unsuspecting buyers in the U.S. or Canada.

That’s why it’s important for car buyers to consider the protections available when purchasing from a registered new-car dealer. Registered dealers conduct proper history searches on all pre-owned vehicles for sale.

CarProof is Canada’s leading provider of comprehensive vehicle history reports to consumers and is endorsed by the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association. CarProof reports are available on most pre-owned vehicles directly from dealerships’ websites.

Car buyers who opt to buy privately are more at risk of potentially purchasing a vehicle with flood damage or other concealed defects. But there are steps consumers can take to minimize that risk.

For instance, when buying from a private seller, car buyers should always request a Used Vehicle Information Package, which includes a description of the vehicle, its Ontario registration history, odometer information, any outstanding debts or liens on it, wholesale and retail values for that model and year (if available), retail sales tax requirements and a bill of sale.

Here are a few things to watch for when buying a pre-owned vehicle:

Inspect the vehicle in daylight.

Look for obvious signs of water damage, such as mould and mildew, not to mention sand under the carpets or behind the dashboard.

Test the major components — radio, windshield wipers, turn signals, headlights, GPS system, heating and air-conditioning systems.

Check for damp or musty odours.

Check for mud and/or silt waterlines underneath the hood.

Review the vehicle’s service records.

Road-test the vehicle at different speeds. Any major deficiencies should be apparent during a test drive.

For more information about storm- and flood-damaged vehicles, visit omvic.on.ca.

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