A flood of flooded cars may show up here in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter are urging consumers to be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles entering the Oklahoma market.

Industry experts estimate that as many as a million vehicles were damaged in Hurricanes Irma (Florida) and Harvey (Texas). In some cases, an insurance adjuster determines a flooded vehicle is a total loss and sends the vehicle to be dismantled. In other cases, the vehicles are assigned a salvage title, branded “flood damaged,” refurbished and sent to auto dealerships across the country.

“Scammers will definitely use this situation to their advantage,” said Doak. “While some just fail to tell you the car’s true history, others will intentionally hide it through a process called “title washing.” They’ll buy the car for next to nothing, do shoddy repair work, then register it in another state that doesn’t brand its vehicles so they can hide the fact that the car was rebuilt. It’s despicable. Not only is the owner at risk for major headaches down the road, but they’re also at risk of injury. Flood damage can compromise the car’s computer and safety mechanisms. People need to be very careful when buying a used vehicle.”

Hunter sent a letter to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, to distribute to tag agencies statewide, urging administrators to be suspicious and vigilant in the transfer of vehicle titles from Texas and surrounding states entering the Oklahoma market and to carefully examine all out of state titles.

Hunter said scammers will fix a water-damaged car with aesthetic upgrades, masking them as an ordinary used car. Individuals will then obtain an out-of-state title, without divulging what has happened and transport the car far beyond the flooded region, where consumers may be less aware of what to look for.

Oklahoma statutes requires owners of a used vehicle entering the state from another state to complete a flood damage disclosure as part of the title process. However, if the seller’s out-of-state title shows no damage, the Oklahoma title won’t either, leaving the purchaser on his or her own.

Hunter said the state has experienced this type of fraud before after past natural disasters and today’s letter and release of recommendations are designed to help Oklahomans looking to buy and to put criminals on notice.

“Flooded cars are a ticking time bomb,” Attorney General Hunter said. “A car that has been cleaned up may run fine and even look fine, but in reality it is a matter of time before something goes wrong. When the electrical, mechanical and safety systems are exposed to water, it compromises the essential functions of the vehicle, putting families and those who share the road at risk.

“I encourage Oklahomans looking for used vehicles to use extreme caution. It’s unfortunate, but con artists view tragedies like we have seen recently as an opportunity to take advantage of others. We will pursue charges if they do this in our state.”

Here are tips for consumers considering buying a used car:

Inspect the car

  • 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.
  • You should also be suspicious if the carpet smells damp and of mildew.

Consider where you buy

  • Flooded vehicles oftentimes end up at car auctions.
  • Shop at a reputable dealership.

Ask questions

  • Ask the dealer for a report with a detailed history of the car.
  • Consider taking the car to a qualified mechanic for a thorough inspection.
  • Always have a certified, independent mechanic inspect the car prior to purchase.
  • Check the Vehicle Information Number (VIN) with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
  • Purchase from a reputable seller.

Signs of a flood damaged car

  • Rust or corrosion on engine components and wiring;
  • Water in oil or transmission, check this by pulling the measuring sticks;
  • Water lines in the trunk;
  • Mud buildup in unusual places, like under the dashboard;
  • Mismatched upholstery and carpet combinations;
  • Rust on unpainted parts like bolts or door hinges;
  • Musty odors.

Also

  • Be suspicious of any car being sold with a lost title.
  • Comprehensive vehicle history reports are produced with the vehicle identification number (VIN) and are available from a variety of sources, including:

– National Insurance Crime Bureau, Carfax, Auto Check

To report flooded cars being sold in Oklahoma, call the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit at 405-521-2029 or send an email to consumerprotection@oag.ok.gov.

For more consumer information when purchasing a used car, visit the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System at: www.vehiclehistory.gov.