Welcome to the Department of Justice, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

For immediate release - Friday, November 4, 2005.

Contact Bob Brammer - 515-281-6699.

Miller: Don't Buy Flood-Damaged Vehicles

Free service available to check if vehicles were damaged by hurricanes: go to www.NICB.org

A.G. lists tips for detecting damage from flooding

DES MOINES.   Attorney General Tom Miller today warned consumers about the danger of flood-damaged cars coming to Iowa in the wake of massive flooding caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"There may be half a million vehicles that were severely damaged in the hurricanes," Miller said. "The threat is that a vehicle may be repaired only cosmetically, moved to Iowa, and offered for sale without indication of the prior damage.

"When that happens, the buyer pays too much and risks costly repairs and hassles," Miller said. "Even worse, the vehicle could be dangerous and subject to failure of brakes or air bags, computers or other systems," he said.

Miller touted a new tool being offered by the National Insurance Crime Bureau - a free way to check VIN vehicle identification numbers to see if a vehicle has been affected by the hurricanes. NICB is a non-profit group that works with insurers, law enforcement and the public to fight insurance fraud and vehicle theft. NICB is supported by the insurance industry.

"NICB is assembling a huge registry of vehicles damaged by floods and high winds of the hurricanes," Miller said. "If people are considering purchasing a used vehicle in the months ahead, they can simply go to www.NICB.org and punch in the VIN to see if it is on the registry. If a vehicle is on the list, most consumers should avoid buying it. If a vehicle is not on the list, consumers still must do more checking, but this is a great tool."

NICB already has registered over 165,000 vehicles. It is compiling the list from information supplied by insurance companies, state and local governments, and salvage yards.

Miller said NICB has agreed to let his office provide a link to the NICB and the registry. The Attorney General's web site is www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org.

"It's free, it's quick, and it is very valuable information," Miller said. "We strongly urge consumers to consult the registry if they are buying a used car in the months ahead."

Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, said of the NICB registry: "By creating this registry now, before the vehicles are salvaged and distributed around the nation, and by having it automated, a vehicle that is branded from Katrina will be 'front-loaded' into the system before scammers can do their thing." [Editors: Contact information for Frank Scafidi: 800-447-6282, ext. 4441, fscafidi@nicb.org. ]

Miller said Carfax, which sells vehicle-history information, also is enabling consumers to check for free if a vehicle was registered in any of the counties declared a federal emergency disaster area -- www.carfax.com/flood

[Update as of Nov. 15, 2005]:

AutoCheck also is providing a free “storm damage scan” service for consumers to check vehicles. Go to www.autocheck.com/storm . When you enter a VIN number, AutoCheck will tell you if it has a vehicle reported as storm-damaged (as reported by a dealer or company to AutoCheck), or if AutoCheck records show the vehicle was registered or titled within the last 12 months in a state affected by the recent disasters -- LA, MS, AL, TX. (In December 2005, AutoCheck is slated to narrow the identification to registrations or titles in counties affected by the disasters.) Of course, a vehicle might NOT have been damaged even if titled in one of the disaster areas, but such a title would suggest a consumer should check a vehicle very carefully.

Since the free services’ data bases come from somewhat different sources, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office recommends that consumers run VINs through all three free services: www.NICB.org, www.carfax.com/flood and www.autocheck.com/storm . Be sure to watch for the free VIN checks, if that is what you are seeking (Carfax and AutoCheck also sell more detailed vehicle histories.)

Tips for Detecting Flood-Damaged Vehicles

Miller emphasized that consumers still must closely examine a vehicle for flood damage even if it doesn't show up on the NICB registry. "The list is growing rapidly, but it will never include all damaged vehicles," he said.

Miller listed tips to look for signs of flood damage:

  • Check inside the trunk, including around the spare tire, for evidence of moisture, silt, or corrosion.

  • Check the engine for signs of moisture damage, such as rust or silt or grass.

  • Give the vehicle a smell test - inside and out - if it smells musty, it could have been flood-damaged.

  • Examine the underside of the vehicle for signs of excess moisture.

  • Check inside dome lights, glove boxes, and other places where water might have been trapped for signs of moisture, mold, rust, or silt.

  • Check the interior for signs of mismatched items such as carpeting or seat covers.

  • Test all electrical components, including lights, signals, switches, and audio system.

"Perhaps the most important thing to do is take a vehicle you are considering to a mechanic you trust," Miller said. "Never buy a vehicle from a seller who won't let you take the vehicle to someone you trust for an inspection before you agree to buy, " he said.

Consumers also should check a vehicle's title history on a service such as Carfax or Autocheck before they buy a used car or truck.

Other background and details:

Miller said this year's flood damage can be particularly dangerous. Many vehicles were submerged for many days in Louisiana, often in salt water or water contaminated by gasoline or e-coli. Problems with vehicles submerged in water are often hidden. Electrical components may fail or show wear much more quickly because of corrosion due to water damage, but may not show the signs of that wear for weeks or months. Flood damage may be hidden, but it can greatly reduce the life-expectancy of a vehicle, and greatly reduce its market value.

The list of VINs at NICB will also help Iowa dealers avoid taking hurricane-damaged vehicles in trade, Miller noted. The registry also can help financial institutions and auctions. The NICB web site lists information about boats damaged in the hurricanes.

NICB is a not-for-profit organization that receives support from approximately 1,000 property/casualty insurance companies. The NICB partners with insurers and law enforcement agencies to aid in identification, detection and prosecution of insurance crime.

Miller said his office will take action against anyone who knowingly sells or trades a hurricane-damaged vehicle to an Iowa consumer or dealer without disclosing the damage.

Anyone who learns they have unknowingly purchased a hurricane-damaged vehicle can file a complaint with his Consumer Protection Division by calling 515-281-5926 (local in Des Moines), or toll-free, 888-777-4590 (outside the local Des Moines calling area), or via e-mail to consumer@ag.state.ia.us. The web site is www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org - click on "protecting consumers."

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