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Flood-damaged vehicles ahoy!

November 16, 2010

Drenching Midwest rains this spring likely means flood-damaged vehicles will be headed to the marketplace. Dealership personnel should guard against accepting flood-damaged vehicles. Illinois dealers are required to disclose whether a car has been flood-damaged or salvaged.

As a checklist, telltale signs of flood damage can be detected if inspectors:

• Check all dashboard gauges for signs of water and make sure they’re accurate.
• Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
• Flex wires under the dashboard to see if they bend or crack. Wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.
• Check the trunk and glove compartment and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
• Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting.
• Look for carpeting that has been replaced. It may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.
• Check for a well-defined line, or watermark, and for musty odors resulting from mildew.
• Examine the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submission in water.

Meanwhile, identical bills in the U.S. House and Senate that address total-loss disclosures have gone nowhere since they were introduced in February 2007. The bills call for the VINs of wrecked, flooded or stolen vehicles to be made publicly available before the cars are resold.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, introduced Senate Bill 545. But only 11 other senators have joined as cosponsors, including just one this year. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) introduced H.R. 1029 and has secured 66 cosponsors, none from Illinois.

David Regan of the NADA said that problems with total-loss data exist because of confusing, incomplete and contradictory state titling systems and because insurance companies underreport total-loss declarations.