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Quirks in State Titling Laws May Allow Flooded Cars To Resurface Undetected

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AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Thousands of cars were damaged by devastating flooding in Colorado this month. By mid-October, auto industry experts expect to see a surge of those cars for sale online and on used car lots.

Mike Surd, General Manager at the Colorado Chrysler Jeep Auto Dealership, told CBS4 he saw five or six cars floating in the intersection of Havana and Alameda in Aurora during the floods.

Street flooding

Street flooding in Aurora at the intersection of Alameda and Havana on Sept. 12 (credit: CBS)

“I hope I never see them on my lot for trade in,” he said.

But Surd is certain many of these cars will resurface somewhere.

“They will definitely be back on the market,” he said.

Surd recommends checking for flood damage by obtaining a vehicle history report before buying a used car. But, in doing so, remember those types of services have limitations. Carfax and its competitor Auto Check both obtain information reported by partner companies and government agencies.

“Getting a Carfax is an important step, but only part of the equation,” says Chris Basso, a spokesperson for Carfax. He says Carfax partners with most, but not all, major insurance companies, and a network of thousands of auto body shops and titling agencies.

“If they don’t have an insurance claim on a vehicle it won’t be reported to a Carfax-type source,” said Surd. “So I really have no way to find out if the car has been flooded.”

Carfax also draws upon information from the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles. But Colorado does not have a specific designation for a Flood Car, like many other states. Colorado can brand a title Salvage which includes cars that have been damaged in floods, fires, car crashes or other catastrophes. A car branded Salvage can be resold without the specific information that it has been in a flood on its title.

And, Colorado’s Salvage designation only applies to cars newer than five years old. The average car on our roads is 11 years old.

“We understand the concerns,” said DMV spokesman Kyle Boyd, who explained this legal loophole could let older cars slip through the cracks and back onto the roads.

Boyd says it would be up to lawmakers to strengthen Colorado’s titling laws.

“Incidents like this bring awareness to it and could lead to further changes in the future,” he said.

Surd says he is asking his mechanics to become detectives to try to spot flood cars and stop them from coming onto his lot.

“If the car comes back on my lot and it passes the inspection, unfortunately it’s buyer beware on my end,” said Surd.

Additional Resources

Here are some tips to help avoid cars with flood damage:

• Take the car for a test drive.
• Check underneath the carpet and carpet pad for signs of water damage like silt, mud or rust.
• Sniff the carpet and upholstery for a musty or moldy smell.
• Check the oil for a milky white or runny appearance.
• Check the air filter for moisture or warping and fanning, which happens to wet filters that have dried.
• Check the electrical systems (lights, wipers, turn signals, stereo, heater and air conditioner) several times to make sure they work.
• Turn the key to make sure gauges work correctly and there are no warning lights.
• Consult with a certified mechanic before purchasing a used car.
• Ask to see a vehicle history report, or use the 17-digit VIN to check a report for yourself online at carfax.com or autocheck.com.

Colorado Floods: How To Help

The recent floods are impacting families and communities throughout Colorado, so CBS4 has compiled a list of ways you can support the local communities impacted by the floods.

- Written by Mark Ackerman for CBSDenver.com

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