Warning: Hurricane Sandy flood cars may surface in Canada
By Steve Mertl for MSN Autos
Chances are you wouldn’t buy a car if you knew it’d had a brief, involuntary stint as a submarine, but a warning is out that someone might soon try to sell you one.
The Insurance Corp. of British Columbia (ICBC), the province’s publicly-owned auto insurer, is warning Canada could see a flood of vehicles for sale that were submerged in the storm surge created by Hurricane Sandy in October.
ICBC is piggybacking on an alert issued by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, which put out an announcement this week warning buyers to expect flood-damaged vehicles from the U.S. East Coast to start showing up for sale in other states for sale, titling and registration.
ICBC says flood-damaged vehicles can be extremely unsafe to drive because water — especially corrosive seawater — can compromise the electronic and computer systems that control every major system in a modern car, from the engine to steering, brakes and airbags.
Not only that, the cars could be contaminated by bacteria and unknown toxins from the mix of storm water and sewage from overloaded drainage systems. What’s more, Canadians have seen this problem before.
"More than half a million vehicles were seriously damaged in the flooding caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (in 2005) and thousands were imported into Canada despite the fact that those vehicles are not legal to drive on our roads," Mary Polak, B.C. minister of transportation and infrastructure, said in an ICBC news release.
"Because the safety of motorists is our top priority, several steps have been taken to prevent these vehicles from being registered in B.C. but we want to help protect British Columbians from purchasing them in the first place."
Transport Canada's registrar of imported vehicles (RIV) program provides the status of vehicles as shown on their U.S. titles, and that information is made available to all licensing jurisdictions in Canada, ICBC said.
"Flood damaged vehicles will be assigned a 'non-repairable' status and will not qualify for on-road use in Canada," said the insurer.
But unscrupulous sellers have ways of concealing a damaged or written-off vehicle’s history through “title washing,” which can include moving vehicles to states with less stringent record-keeping rules or replacing vehicle-identification numbers.
According to CarFax, the privately operated vehicle-history database, cars from hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma are still showing up for sale across the country.
ICBC spokesperson Lindsay Olsen said no Sandy-damaged vehicles have shown up in British Columbia yet, "but we would expect them to first arrive in Ontario, Quebec or New Brunswick due to proximity."
Olsen said ICBC believes less than a hundred vehicles damaged by Rita and Katrina ended up in B.C. thanks to rules to prevent them from being registered.
"That being said, if a U.S. vehicle was flood damaged in a storm, and the vehicle wasn't given a flood-damaged vehicle title by the state, these vehicles couldn't be identified as flood vehicles,” said Olsen.
ICBC urges vehicle shoppers to examine prospective purchases closely, testing all the electrics, looking for things like signs rust or mud in places you wouldn’t expect to find it, like in HVAC vents, the glove box or under the seats or dash, and looking for a telltale dirty waterline mark under the hood.
A professional vehicle inspection is also recommended, along with researching its history on Carfax or Canadian-based CarProof, both of which now have online flood-damage tools.
The best guarantee of not getting a Sandy survivor, the insurer says, is to buy from a licensed dealer who’s required to research and disclose a vehicle’s potentially murky past.