Tips to Avoid Purchasing a Flood Car

As we’ve all seen recently in the news, hurricanes (and the floods that result from them) can create enormous damage to properties and vehicles. In fact, one recent estimate from Hurricane Harvey, estimated over 200,000 vehicles would be totaled due to flood damaged.

If you are in the market for a new vehicle, be wary, as flood vehicles offer a tempting opportunity for criminals to defraud unsuspecting consumers. By definition, a flood vehicle has been completely or partially submerged in water to the extent that its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical component parts have been damaged.

If the vehicle is so damaged that it is no longer operable, the driver’s insurance company settles the claim by buying the vehicle and selling it as a “salvage” at an auto auction.

Dishonest and unscrupulous car dealers buy the vehicles, dry and clean them, yet leave plenty of hidden flood damage. They then transport the vehicles to states unaffected by the storm or natural disaster and sell them as used vehicles to unsuspecting buyers.

These dishonest dealers will not disclose the damage on the vehicle’s title as they are required, which is a crime called “title washing.” The vehicles are then sold with the hidden damage.

Below are some tips to help you avoid purchasing a vehicle that may be flood damaged.


 

Fraud prevention tips

Consumers can take preventive measures before purchasing a used vehicle to avoid being victimized by flood vehicle fraud:

  • Select a reputable car dealer.
  • Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
  • Check for recently shampooed carpet.
  • Inspect the interior upholstery and door panels for fading.
  • Check for rust on screws in the console or areas where water normally doesn’t reach.
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
  • Check inside the seatbelt retractors by pulling the seatbelt all the way out and inspect for moisture, mildew or grime.
  • Check door speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
  • Have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.
  • Ask about the vehicle’s history. Ask whether it was in any accidents or floods.
  • Inspect the title and ownership papers for any potential or questionable salvage fraud.
  • Conduct a title search of the vehicle.
  • Look under the hood for signs of oxidation. Pull back rubber boots around electrical and mechanical connections for these indicators: Ferrous materials will show signs of rust and copper will show a green patina
  • Aluminum and alloys will have a white powder and pitting.
  • Trust your instincts: If you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!

Dangers of Unlicensed Contractors

One of the first principles of gambling is this: Never take a risk you can’t afford to lose.

When you hire an unlicensed contractor to do work on your property, or you fail to secure the necessary permits for that work, you are doing just that.

Here’s why: When a general contractors take jobs, they will hand off parts of it to one or more subcontractors. But the general contractor has overall responsibility for legal compliance, safety, quality of workmanship and just about everything else that happens on the job site.

Now here’s the dirty little secret: If you don’t hire a licensed and insured contractor to handle your project, you’re the general contractor!

If your unlicensed contractor breaks a sewer line, you’re responsible. If a worker gets hurt and can’t work for two years, and there’s no workers compensation coverage in place, you are on the hook for that workers’ medical bills and lost wages.

To find out more about the risks involved in hiring unlicensed/uninsured contractors, please read below.  And, if you’re curious to find out how your homeowners insurance will respond to these types of situations, please give our office a call.


 

General contractors take on a ton of responsibility. With that comes an equal measure of potential liability. That’s why licensed and responsible general contractors carry a lot of insurance, from general liability insurance to workers compensation insurance.

All these different forms of insurance coverage ultimately protect the customer if things don’t go according to plan. In fact, some states won’t even issue a contractor’s license if the minimum level of insurance isn’t in place.

Additionally, all subcontractors (when preforming work for the general contractor) will either have their own insurance or they will be operating under the general contractor’s license and insurance coverage. Either way, you as the customer will enjoy a substantial level of protection simply by virtue of using a licensed and bonded contractor. Their insurance protects you from having to bear the financial consequences of a job gone wrong, or a workplace injury.

What Can Go Wrong With Unlicensed Contractors?

Many things can go wrong on a construction job, from injuries to shoddy workmanship to destruction of power, sewer or water lines. Ultimately, all issues are the responsibility of the general contractor. The general contractor and their insurance carriers are the primary payers in the event something goes awry on the job. This also means that if you are personally operating as the general contractor, you must be aware of the potential risks and litigation that could arise.

What’s more, your standard homeowners insurance or landlord liability insurance will not cover you for these events. Most of these policies exempt damage caused by the knowing use of illegal or unlicensed contractors.

Consequences for Landlords

Landlords should be very wary of property management companies that make use of unlicensed or uninsured contractors. When they do, they are potentially putting you at risk, too.

If your property manager brings in an unlicensed or uninsured contractor, and something goes wrong, courts have generally held the property owner liable along with the property manager.

The Danger of Hiring Friends as Contractors

Hiring friends as contractors doesn’t make the liability and risk issues go away. Everyone can enter an arrangement with the best of intentions, but when your buddy falls off the ladder and files a claim with his insurance company, the company may well pay the claim and then go after you in subrogation proceedings (the area of law in which insurance companies fight to get reimbursed after paying their customers’ claims).

In one California case, Mendoza v. Brodeur, a homeowner asked his neighbor to do some work for him on his home. But the neighbor got hurt on the job. The homeowner thought he was hiring an independent contractor who had his own insurance. The court rejected that reasoning, and found instead that the homeowner was the neighbor’s employer and therefore should have had workers compensation coverage in place to cover the possibility of injury on the job. Since workers compensation wasn’t there, the homeowner has to cover the costs personally.

Summary: the Risks of Hiring Unlicensed Contractors

Failing to hire an insured, licensed and street-legal contractor could potentially cost you everything you own. If the worst happens, you could be sued into bankruptcy. Additionally, most homeowners insurance policies specifically exclude damages arising from the work of unlicensed contractors, so they will not protect you. Therefore, if you have a home project that presents any sort of risk, we highly recommend hiring a licensed general contractor to assist with the job.