The insurance industry says more than 230,000 cars were filled with sand and salt water by Sandy.
A large industry of insurance thieves, tow truck operators and auto dealers work together to salvage and resell “total-loss” cars.
The cars are recovered from flooded garages and streets. They are dried out and cleaned. They usually look good.
The next job is to “scrub” or “wash” the title. One trick is selling the car over the Internet. Or going through states such as Vermont and Colorado that have weak auto registration laws.
The title should carry the warning that the cars are “flood cars.” And there may be telltale signs such as dampness or mildew in the vehicle.
Efforts by insurance companies and the federal government to create national title registries are in place but not complete or effective.
For people without total-loss insurance on their car, the best choice is to sell it to whoever will haul it away. From the tow truck, the cars may be stripped of valuable parts and sent to auto repair shops everywhere. Or, the car – whole or in parts – may be shipped overseas. Or it may end up in a dealership near you.
Look for these signs of water damage in any vehicle you buy:
- Water or condensation in the headlights or taillights
- A musty odor in the vehicle
- Mud in the seat belt tracks or seat belt tensioners
- Water in the spare tire well in a vehicle’s trunk
- A sagging headliner, particularly on a late-model vehicle
- Corrosion in the vehicle’s undercarriage