By Jim Donovan

By Jim Donovan:  If you’re looking to buy a used car, be sure to check out the online database listing all vehicles issued flood or salvage titles since Superstorm Sandy flooded large areas of New Jersey. 

The database has been updated and currently contains information on nearly 31,000 vehicles.  Enter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) unique to each vehicle to check whether a flood or salvage title has been issued.

It is not illegal to sell a vehicle with either a flood or salvage title, but specific requirements exist to ensure the status of such vehicles is disclosed to potential purchasers.

If a motor vehicle has suffered sufficient damage to render it economically impractical to repair or has been rendered a total loss by an insurer, the person in possession of the certificate of ownership (or “title”) for the vehicle is required, by law, to surrender the title to the MVC. The MVC will then issue a salvage title for that vehicle. Salvage vehicles cannot be registered for the purpose of being driven on the public highways of New Jersey except for the purpose of going to and from an inspection appointment at a Motor Vehicle Commission facility. (N.J.A.C. 13:21-22.6.)  It is against the law to sell or transfer ownership of a salvage motor vehicle except as a salvage motor vehicle with a salvage title, unless the vehicle is repaired and inspected by the Motor Vehicle Commission. (N.J.A.C. 13:21-22.5.)

The owner of a vehicle damaged by flood, but not rendered economically impractical to repair or not rendered a total loss by an insurer, must place the phrase “Flood Vehicle” on the title, assignment of certificate of ownership (title), or manufacturer’s statement of origin if a new vehicle, directly below the word “Status.” All subsequent titles shall be so noted. Vehicles damaged by flood will not be registered unless the application for registration is accompanied by the appropriately noted certificate of ownership. (N.J.A.C. 13:21-5.6, -5.7.)

Before purchasing a used vehicle, consumers are advised to:

· Check the vehicle’s title history and be wary if the vehicle has been titled multiple times over a short time period;
· Obtain a vehicle history report from the dealer, or get one yourself from a reputable source; this will let you know if the car has been damaged in the past; and
· Look for an insurance company’s name on the title history, and contact the company for vehicle information. 

Consumers should check whether a new or used auto dealer is licensed by the MVC as legally required. Consumer Affairs can provide information on any past actions it has taken against a dealership and whether consumers have filed complaints about a dealership. Consumers also should have their trained mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection of the vehicle.

Among the telltale signs that a vehicle may have sustained flood damage are:

· 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.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.

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