The Law Office of Paul Mankin

Did you purchase a vehicle with flood or hurricane damage?

With climate change comes more severe weather patterns, including devastating hurricanes and tropical storms that last longer than ever in our lifetimes to date. In California, we have seen a rise in fires over the last several years, which has created hazard for flooding and erosion. One of the little discussed effects of increased flooding is the damage to vehicles, especially in the resale market. It is not only the case with California vehicles that this problem exists, It is also with vehicles damaged by hurricane and tropical storms and flooding around the country as damaged cars are resold either as part of the buyer’s significant life event or simply as part of a purchase from sellers in one state to sellers in others. Used cars are often transferred between states en masse after a natural disaster, such as a tropical storm or hurricane influx.

The proper series of events when a vehicle is damaged by water from any source is for there to be an insurance claim filed and then for the insurer to make a damage report regarding the vehicle’s damage history and, if necessary, the addition of a flood title. This damage report then appears on the vehicle history attainable by dealers and by individuals who use services such as CarFax or AutoCheck. During times of chaos, however, such as during a major storm, reporting does not always occur as it should.

Whether it is because someone lost their home and will simply have to deal with repairs themselves if and when they get to it or, as occurs in many cases, because the owner carried only minimal insurance coverage that is unlikely to adequately cover the damage sustained, these storm vehicles are often simply salvaged or the carpeting is replaced and other signs of damage or exposure are repaired or covered up. In either case, this kind of misrepresentation is fraudulent and illegal. In California, it is a basis for voiding the contract for sale of a vehicle.

Even with obvious unreported damage, it can be costly and time consuming to take a seller to court, and there is no guarantee a buyer will actually recover payment from the seller even if they win a judgment against it. Therefore, it is incumbent on the would-be used car buyer to exercise due diligence and caution not only in vetting a vehicle for purchase but also in vetting the seller, whether that a dealer for the owner himself. When it comes to flood damage especially where there is an influx and water damage vehicles into markets like California due to weather disasters all across the country, it is unfortunately not terribly uncommon for dealers or for those selling to the dealers to fail to report no damage air even to falsify documentation make a vehicle history of here quicker than it actually is. A used car fire should always have independent Third-party mechanic and auto body shop examine a vehicle before making a deal for its purchase.