The State Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) and Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) are urging all customers to consult their database of flood and salvage-titled vehicles before purchasing a car.
That database now provides information on 31,000 such vehicles, the State MVC announced on Wednesday.
It isn't illegal to sell vehicles with flood or salvaged titles. However, there are specific requirements that ensure potential purchasers are aware of the status of such vehicles, according to the MVC.
“Damage sustained by vehicles must be disclosed to prospective buyers,” Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said. “We will hold car dealers accountable for violating our Consumer Fraud Act if they fail to make such disclosures.”
The database was established in January and lists all flood or salvaged titles since Superstorm Sandy bombarded New Jersey on Oct. 29 of last year. Customers can look up vehicles in the database using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
“The Motor Vehicle Commission and the Division of Consumer Affairs have been updating the online database regularly since its inception," MVC Chair and Chief Administrator Raymond P. Martinez said. "We want the public to have up-to-date information readily available so they can easily perform their due diligence before making a buying decision."
Owners of motor vehicles that have been rendered economically impractical to repair or a total loss by an insurer are required by law to surrender their titles to the MVC, which then issues a salvage title for the vehicle.
It is illegal to sell or transfer a salvage title unless the vehicle is repaired and inspected by the MVC.
It is illegal to drive a salvaged vehicle on the state's highways, unless the car is going to and from an inspection.
Owners of vehicles that have been flooded but not rendered economically impractical to repair or a total loss by an insurer must label the status as "flood vehicle" on the title or the manufacturer's statement of origin. All titles issued thereafter must also be labeled as such. Otherwise, the vehicle can't be registered.
“This database is another way that we’re empowering consumers and aiding them in the marketplace,” State Division of Consumer Affairs Director Eric T. Kanefsky said. “Just as importantly, we encourage consumers to file complaints with us if they believe a car dealer is not disclosing that a vehicle offered for sale has sustained storm damage.”
Martinez noted customers should make sure a dealership is licensed by the MVC, as legally required. The DCA can provide information on past action it has taken against a dealership, and if customers have filed complaints about that dealership.
Additionally, the MVC and the DCA warn customers to check the title history of vehicles, and be cautious vehicles that have been titled multiple times over a short period; obtain a vehicle history report from the dealer or a reputable source; and contact the insurance company listed on the title for vehicle information.
Customers should ask their mechanic to perform a pre-purchase inspection of the vehicle for the following signs of damage caused by flooding:
- 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.
Customers who suspect they may have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other type 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 973-504-6200.