Call them Franken-cars.
As the recovery continues from Hurricane Matthew, which caused an $1.5 million in damages to date in North Carolina, the state Attorney General’s Office is warning car buyers to be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles.
“Salvage yards will get three or four vehicles and try to make one out of them and sell that one,” said Steve Squires, owner of Auto Generators Starter Service in Kinston in Lenoir County, one of 27 North Carolina counties that have been declared disaster areas.
The body may look good, but often the electrical systems and parts are damaged beyond repair, he said.
“It’s a constant problem when buying a car,” he said. “We can look under the dash and see bolts that are starting to rust. That’s a tell-tale sign. I know several people who had a flooded vehicle and they took it upon themselves to clean everything and they wish they had never done it. Everyone who has done it has regretted it.”
Another sign is the smell of mold and mildew.
Squires tells people who contact him about fixing their flooded cars to call their insurance company.
“Hopefully, they have comprehensive insurance and they can handle it from there,” he said. “If the car has been flooded, it needs to be totaled.”
Cars that have been damaged by flood waters can end up anywhere.
For cars that have suffered flood damage but have been repaired, sellers are required by state law to disclose that to buyers.
Vehicles that have been partially or totally submerged in water that caused damage to the body, engine or transmission are considered flood vehicles, according to the attorney general’s office.
If a car has been totaled by an insurance company, that must be noted on the title.
However, the attorney general’s office said that title work is sometimes altered to remove mention of flood damage, and failure to disclose flood damage is a misdemeanor.
The office offers these tips for buyers:
• Ask the seller directly if the car has been damaged in any way.
• Get a complete vehicle history. CARFAX, using the car’s VIN, charges $39.99 for a report on a vehicle’s history.
• Request a copy of the title and check the date and place of transfer to see if the vehicle comes from an area that recently experienced flooding.
• Have the vehicle checked by a mechanic before you buy.
• Don’t buy a car over the internet if you haven’t seen it in person.
• Check for rust and mud in the trunk, glove compartment and beneath the seats.
• Look for rusty brackets under the dash and carpet, discolored upholstery and mismatched carpet.
• Test the headlights, windshield wipers, turn signals, power outlets and radio
• Run the heater and air conditioner and look in the vents for signs of water or mud.
To report potential violations, call the attorney general’s office at 1-877-5-NO SCAM.