State Officials Remind Used Car-Buyers To Be Wary Of Flood-Damaged Vehicles

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New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa

New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa

NEWARK – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs reminded consumers that when buying a used car, it is always important to check the vehicle’s history – especially if the car may have been exposed to flood damage.

“The majority of car dealers in New Jersey are honest and above-board – but we have taken action against car dealers accused of violating the law by failing to disclose past damage or other information about used vehicles,” Chiesa said. “Consumers should always obtain a vehicle history report, and be sure they fully understand the warranty, when buying a used vehicle. That message is more important than ever, now that we’re aware of vehicles that have been exposed to Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters.”

Flood damage can cause wide-ranging mechanical problems that may manifest long after the seller of a car has gone. Engines may begin to stall or fail in traffic. Electronic components may corrode and cease to function. Anti-lock brakes, airbags, and other components may fail and compromise the vehicle’s safety. Flooded cars may also pose allergy risks due to mold and mildew, or the risk of dangerous pathogens after having been exposed to contaminated floodwaters.

Chiesa noted that, under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act and Motor Vehicle Advertising Regulations, it is illegal to advertise a car for sale without disclosing past damage, or failing to disclose past rental or fleet use of a vehicle. In 2010 and 2011, the Division of Consumer Affairs obtained separate settlements from five used car dealers who agreed to pay a combined total of $240,000, after being accused of failing to provide required information about vehicles.

The Division of Consumer Affairs offers the following Tips on Buying a Used Car:

  • Before buying a used car, look for the Used Car Buyer’s Guide, which must be posted in plain view on the car. The Guide will describe the warranty, or state whether the car is offered without a warranty.
  • Obtain a vehicle history report from the dealer, or get one yourself from a reputable source; this will let you know if their records indicate the car has been damaged in the past.
  • Test drive the car, listen for noises, and make sure all gauges, lights, air conditioning and electronic systems work. Look for signs of water or accident damage, or unusual tire wear which may indicate an alignment problem.
  • Remember that it’s unlawful for the seller to misrepresent the vehicle’s mechanical condition, or fail to disclose any material defect in the mechanical condition which is known to the dealer.
  • If you don’t like the deal being offered, or if you feel pressured, simply walk away.

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 1-973-504-6200.

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