Officials Say Flood-Damaged Vehicle Database Has Doubled In Size

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NEWARK – An online database launched in late January and listing all vehicles issued flood or salvage titles since Superstorm Sandy flooded large areas of New Jersey has doubled in size and currently lists 26,000 vehicles, officials announced today.

The leaders of the State Motor Vehicle Commission and Division of Consumer Affairs again urged prospective buyers of a used motor vehicle to check the online database before finalizing a purchase. It is not illegal to sell a vehicle with either a flood or salvage title, but specific requirements exist to ensure the status of such vehicles is disclosed to potential purchasers.

“Omission of material facts to buyers, such as the existence of a flood or salvage title, violates the state’s Consumer Fraud Act. We will take action against those who attempt to deceive used car buyers, including the filing of lawsuits where warranted, in order to protect consumers,” Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said.

The online database, located at www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/floodedcars, allows users to enter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) unique to each vehicle and check whether a flood or salvage title has been issued.

“With our partners at Consumer Affairs, we have been able to put valuable information at the fingertips of consumers who are in the market for a vehicle and want to protect themselves from unscrupulous sellers,” said Raymond P. Martinez, MVC Chairman and Chief Administrator. “If you’re unsure about a vehicle you’re interested in buying, take some time and do the research.”

If a motor vehicle has suffered sufficient damage to render it economically impractical to repair or has been rendered a total loss by an insurer, the person in possession of the certificate of ownership (or “title”) for the vehicle is required, by law, to surrender the title to the MVC. The MVC will then issue a salvage title for that vehicle. Salvage vehicles cannot be registered for the purpose of being driven on the public highways of New Jersey except for the purpose of going to and from an inspection appointment at a Motor Vehicle Commission facility. (N.J.A.C. 13:21-22.6.)

It is against the law to sell or transfer ownership of a salvage motor vehicle except as a salvage motor vehicle with a salvage title, unless the vehicle is repaired and inspected by the Motor Vehicle Commission. (N.J.A.C. 13:21-22.5.)

The owner of a vehicle damaged by flood, but not rendered economically impractical to repair or not rendered a total loss by an insurer, must place the phrase “Flood Vehicle” on the title, assignment of certificate of ownership (title), or manufacturer’s statement of origin if a new vehicle, directly below the word “Status.” All subsequent titles shall be so noted. Vehicles damaged by flood will not be registered unless the application for registration is accompanied by the appropriately noted certificate of ownership. (N.J.A.C. 13:21-5.6, -5.7.)

“Consumers who are thinking about purchasing a used motor vehicle need to be vigilant, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “Storm damaged vehicles may be offered for sale for years to come.”

Before purchasing a used vehicle, consumers are advised to:

  • Check the vehicle’s title history and be wary if the vehicle has been titled multiple times over a short time period;
  • Obtain a vehicle history report from the dealer, or get one yourself from a reputable source; this will let you know if the car has been damaged in the past; and
  • Look for an insurance company’s name on the title history, and contact the company for vehicle information.

Martinez noted that consumers should check whether a new or used auto dealer is licensed by the MVC as legally required. Consumer Affairs can provide information on any past actions it has taken against a dealership and whether consumers have filed complaints about a dealership.

Consumers also should have their trained mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection of the vehicle.

Among the telltale signs that a vehicle may have sustained flood damage are:

  • A musty or moldy smell or the strong scent of a deodorizer all over the car;
  • Rust on metal parts where water would not normally touch;
  • Water-stained upholstery or water damage on the door panels or seat belts; and
  • Mildew, silt or debris in areas around the engine compartment, under the carpeting or in the trunk.

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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