GARDINER – Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa cautioned consumers and businesses on Monday to be alert for the possibility of flood-damaged autos in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Although the October superstorm did not result in significant damage in Maine, many Northeastern states experienced wide-spread storm surges and flooding.
“According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s estimate, more than 250,000 vehicles were damaged by the storm,” Superintendent Cioppa said. “This estimate includes only insured losses, so many more autos may have been impacted. Damaged vehicles could be for sale in Maine right now.”
The Superintendent emphasized that it’s more important than ever to do research when buying a car or truck. Vehicles suffering storm damage, even after repairs and cleaning, can pose safety risks and may require substantial repairs down the road.
If the damage is great enough, an insurance company will “total” the vehicle and pay for its actual cash value, less the policy’s deductible. Alternatively, if the insurance company agrees, a vehicle owner may choose to keep the auto and receive its value less the salvage value.
Maine law requires an insurer to obtain a salvage title when it declares a vehicle a total loss, and the vehicle may not be operated on the road until it has been repaired, inspected, and rebranded with a title indicating “rebuilt salvage,” “rebuilt,” or “repaired” by the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles. However, sellers can sometimes conceal damage by moving a vehicle and its title to other states, a practice known as “title washing.”
“Severely damaged vehicles may appear for sale in Maine without any indication that they were affected by Sandy,” added Cioppa. “Even new cars could have sustained flood damage.”
Cioppa offers the following tips for consumers to reduce the risk of unknowingly purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle:
* Thoroughly inspect the vehicle for signs of water damage. Look for mud, stains, or musty odors in the interior, the trunk and the spare tire storage compartment.
* Check the undercarriage for rust or flaking metal.
* Always test drive a vehicle and have it carefully inspected by a mechanic you trust.
* Contact the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) to request a title search. For additional information on titles and title searches, including applicable fees, contact BMV at (207) 624-9000 or visit www.maine.gov/sos/bmv.
* View a detailed title history and damage report from a national database such as CarFax, Autocheck, or Consumer Guide Automotive. There may be a fee to view these reports.
Additionally, consumers can download useful checklists and learn more about flood and salvage vehicle scams, and post-disaster contractor repair schemes, by visiting the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) website (www.NICB.org). The site’s VINCheck allows free consumer access to the vehicle salvage records of participating NICB member insurance companies, which collectively provide 88 percent of the auto insurance in force today.
Maine consumers and business operators with questions about auto, home, business or other lines of insurance are encouraged to contact the Bureau of Insurance by calling 1-800-300-5000 or sending an e-mail to Insurance.PFR@maine.gov.
The Bureau of Insurance is part of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation (www.maine.gov/pfr) which encourages sound business practices through high quality, impartial and efficient oversight of insurers, financial institutions, creditors, investment providers, and numerous occupations to protect the public.