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Beware of Water-Damaged Used Cars in Sandy's Wake

If you're in the market for a used car, make sure it's not one of the thousands of vehicles damaged during Superstorm Sandy .

The National Insurance Crime Bureau and Amica Insurance are warning against inadvertantly purchasing vehicles that were declared total losses as a result of Superstorm Sandy.

Amica Insurance released a press release last week offering tips to help consumers identify and avoid water-damaged cars, which were declared a loss by insurance, then potentially fraudulently resold to new buyers.

"Salvage operators and dealers may try to conceal the fact that a car has been damaged," said Shannon O'Brien, an Amica Insurance assistant vice president, "leaving potential buyers as potential victims of a bad deal."

The NCIB offers VINCheck, a free consumer protection service to help potential car buyers identify cars which may have sustained flood or other damage. The VINCheck log compiles its list from more than 1,100 insurance companies. Consumers can search the log to see if the vehicle they're considering was declared as salvage.

The VINCheck service was born seven years ago, following Hurricane Katrina. The NICB worked with law enforcement officials in Louisiana and Mississippi to examine hundreds of thousands of flood-damaged vehicles, then established VINCheck to help consumers identify vehicles declared as salvage, or as unrecovered stolen vehicles.

In the wake of Sandy, consumers should also be aware of the potential for fraud by repair mechanics.

"Fraud is an unfortunate reality in post-disaster environments," said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. "As the initial recovery from Hurricane Sandy begins, there are people right now who are planning to converge on the affected area to scam disaster victims out of their money while promising to do repairs."

The National Autmobile Dealers Association recommends taking the following precautions against buying a storm damaged car:

  • Check the title history with VINCheck to see whether the vehicle has sustained flood damage.
  • Examine the engine compartment, door panels, dashboard, trunk, upholstery and interior carpet for signs of water, mud, mold, grit or rusting.
  • Look for rust on areas that normally would not come into contact with water. Check wiring for rusted components, water residue or corrosion.
  • Inspect the undercarriage for signs of rust or flaking.

"When in doubt, have the vehicle checked out," said NADA Chairman Bill Underriner. "Your safety and your family's safety are far too important to risk."

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