Maine Gov. Paul R. LePage and Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa cautioned consumers and businesses that recent severe weather and flooding in Maine, throughout the Northeast and in other parts of the country increases the possibility of flood-damaged autos being offered for sale.
They noted that more than 250,000 vehicles were damaged in Northeastern states by Superstorm Sandy in October of 2012, with many of those cars and trucks likely sold to unsuspecting buyers.
“In the aftermath of strong storms and flooding, it’s more important than ever to do research when buying a car or truck,” Gov. LePage said. “Vehicles suffering storm damage, even after repairs and cleaning, can pose safety risks and may require substantial repairs down the road.”
Maine law requires an insurer to obtain a salvage title when it declares a vehicle a total loss, and the vehicle may not be operated on the road until it has been repaired, inspected, and rebranded with a title indicating “rebuilt salvage,” “rebuilt,” or “repaired” by the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Officials warned, however, that sellers can sometimes conceal damage by moving a vehicle and its title to other states, a practice known as “title washing.”
“Severely damaged vehicles may appear for sale in Maine without any indication that they were affected by a flooding from a hurricane or other severe weather event hundreds or even thousands of miles away,” Superintendent Cioppa said. “Even new cars can sustain flood damage.”
Cioppa offers the following tips for consumers to reduce the risk of unknowingly purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle:
• Thoroughly inspect the vehicle for signs of water damage. Look for mud, stains, or musty odors in the interior, the trunk and the spare tire storage compartment.
• Check the undercarriage for rust or flaking metal.
• Always test drive a vehicle and have it carefully inspected by a mechanic you trust.
• Contact the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) to request a title search. For additional information on titles and title searches, including applicable fees, contact BMV at (207) 624-9000 or visit www.maine.gov/sos/bmv.
• View a detailed title history and damage report from a national database such as CarFax, Autocheck, or Consumer Guide Automotive. There may be a fee to view these reports.
More information is available from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) at www.naic.org/documents/consumeralertFlood_Cars.htm. Additionally, consumers can download useful checklists and learn more about flood and salvage vehicle scams, and post-disaster contractor repair schemes, by visiting the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) website (www.NICB.org). The site’s VINCheck allows free consumer access to the vehicle salvage records of participating NICB member insurance companies, which collectively provide 88 percent of the auto insurance in force today.
Maine consumers and business operators with questions about auto, home, business or other lines of insurance can contact the Maine Bureau of Insurance by calling 1-800-300-5000 or sending an e-mail to: Insurance.PFR@maine.gov.