Buyer Beware: Hurricane-damaged vehicles could be making their way to the Miami Valley

Hurricane-damaged vehicles could be making their way to the Miami Valley (Courtesy: Sandy's Towing)

DAYTON, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - This year will go down as one of the most active and devastating hurricane seasons. The effects will be felt in some areas for years to come, but the impact is far reaching. The Ohio Department of Insurance is warning Ohioans to be cautious in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma when purchasing a used vehicle.

"We are stressing to consumers the importance of becoming more informed about the used vehicle they are considering," ODI Director Jilliam Froment said. "Obtaining a vehicle history report and enlisting a trusted mechanic to conduct an inspection are strongly recommended. Flood damage can compromise computer and safety mechanisms and also likely make the vehicle uninsurable."

"A lot of those cars migrate up here because we're least likely to think that we're going to be taken advantage of with a flood-related vehicle," Jason Brown, Huber Heights AAA Car Care Facility manager, said. "If it is a rebuilt salvage title then you need to start asking questions."

According to the ODI, flood-damaged vehicles are often declared a total loss by an insurance company before typically being sold at salvage auctions. Resale is permitted if flood damage is declared on the vehicle's title, but every state does not have a flood-damage declaration requirement. Ohio does have a flood-damage declaration requirement.


It's estimated up to 500,000 vehicles were damaged during Hurricane Harvey alone and nearly one million vehicles total when including Irma. Brad McIntosh, Business/Finance manager at Sandy's Towing in Dayton, saw the damage first hand.

"After two weeks we surpassed the number that we did in Hurricane Sandy, which to date was the biggest one we had done," McIntosh said.

Sandy's Towing fulfilled 27,000 orders from insurance agencies over 42 days. Roughly 40 Ohio employees were in Texas in the wake of Harvey. They were responsible for up to 250 tow trucks at a given time.

"Cars just wash away and end up wherever they end up," McIntosh said. "[Makes you realize] Ohio's not so bad. We don't have to deal with this type of thing."


AAA said there are several warning signs a consumer can look out for when purchasing a used car, including:

  • Unusual odor -- Flood-damaged cars often have a distinct musty, mildew odor. This comes from mold that has grown in the car while it holds standing water for days or weeks.
  • New carpeting -- New carpeting could be a red flag. If the carpeting is newer than the rest of the upholstery then that's a sign it could've been replaced after flood damage.
  • Rust -- Check for any rust, including on metal in hard to reach places. Use a flashlight and mirror to look under the seats. These are some of the spots not as easily detectable without a thorough search.
  • Condensation in the headlights -- Condensation can develop in headlights and taillights due to the extreme heat and humidity in the South.
  • Spare tire wheel well water collection -- AAA says this is usually the number one place that will hold water and a lot of places forget to clean them out. Lift the trunk compartment open and check in the wheel well to see if there's any water still in there.
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