Damaged cars could flood the market after Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian brought with it high winds, a strong storm surge, death and destruction; many cars heavily impacted by the storm will be deemed “salvage” by insur
Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 6:15 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 6, 2022 at 9:07 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Hurricane Ian brought with it high winds, a strong storm surge, death and destruction; many cars heavily impacted by the storm will be deemed “salvage” by insurance companies.

That means they are so badly damaged insurance companies will not cover the costs to fix them. Some will be junked but others could end up on a lot where you are buying your next car.

Experts are warning that these flooded or damaged vehicles will be for sale following Hurricane Ian, and you might not know it until it is too late.

The illegal practice of title washing has existed for years, where sellers will re-register cars that have shoddy histories in different states with looser restrictions to drop a label indicating it was damaged at some point.

It is not against the law to sell a damaged car, but it is to not disclose the information.

“It’s all about transparency,” Bailey Parker, communications director of the Department of Consumer Affairs said.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office charged 19 people related to a title washing ring on Wednesday.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s office did not report any prosecutions related to title washing, but Consumer Affairs encourages people to stay vigilant.

South Carolina was one of the first states to attempt to mitigate the effect of this illegal practice on consumers in the mid-90s.

House Representative Jerry Govan sponsored a newer bill that became law in early 2021, closing loopholes in the salvage market system established then.

“I think it protects the consumer and it protects South Carolinians from being taken advantage of,” Govan said.

The law established the salvage operator process, including auto auctions and ensures that salvaged vehicles have specific labels whether they have been in a fire, flood or accident.

The recent Hurricane is the first natural disaster to put it to the test.

Some red flags to look out for include when a deal looks too good to be true especially if it comes from a place recently hit by a natural disaster.

The first thing consumers should do is look up the VIN number, a unique ID for each car. It shows the history of the vehicle, where it was registered and if there was any major event like an accident or flooding that it experienced.

The most well-known service is CarFax but the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) also has a list of approved sites.

This only tells a portion of the car’s story. Consumers also should look at the used car they are considering in person and get a trusted mechanic to do an inspection. This way the customer can look for rust or water stains, or any other sign of water damage.

“It is pennies compared to the heartache that you’re going to experience and the thousands you’ll pay down the line to have to fix that vehicle over and over and over again,” Parker said. “If somebody’s going to try and wash a title, they’re going to do everything in their power to make it look as clean as they can. So, unfortunately, it’s up to the consumer to, if they are looking at a vehicle, do their process and check into everything that they can so they know they’re getting the best deal possible.”

Salvage cars from Florida could make it to used car lots six months from now or even sooner.

If you think you were a victim of title washing, you can reach out to the Live 5 Investigates team at 843-402-5678 or email tips@live5news.com