Do Your Homework! Be wary of hurricane damaged cars arriving in AL

Updated: Jul. 2, 2018 at 9:19 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Gene Canavan remembers the feeling all too well, one of regret: that old nagging buyer's remorse.

"I've been snookered twice," Canavan said.

The second case involved buying a car that had ice damage, rust underneath after spending most of its life up north in the snow and ice.

"It was on the framing and not on something that really mattered," he said.

Welcome to the world of buyer beware, perhaps now more than ever.

When Hurricane Harvey battered the Texas coast late last summer, the storm heavily damaged 600,000 vehicles, according to a national research firm. Montgomery mechanic Fred Porterfield might have inspected a Harvey damaged car, but he thinks it may have come from the New Orleans area, a Katrina leftover. A potential buyer was interested in purchasing a Nissan Altima three weeks ago. The would-be buyer had Porterfield check it out.

"It was real bad," he said. "So I had to go back and check the gas tank and mud was coming out. That told me the car had been underwater and water got into the tank."

Porterfield charged $80 for the diagnostic test but saved the prospective buyer close to $5,000 in the purchase price. The potential buyer returned the vehicle to the dealer in the Montgomery area.

"Real sluggish, engine light flashing. It barely made it," said Porterfield.

All of this raises the question how hurricane damaged vehicles make it to the marketplace to start with. It's not as secretive as you might think.

"A lot of people will buy that car," said Montgomery used car dealer Joe Scott.

Joe Scott's been in the used car business for more than 50 years. Many of the flood-damaged vehicles can be repaired but sold at a much lower cost. There are buyers, in fact, who will take a chance, pay for it and hope the vehicle performs just fine. But it is a huge risk.

"They'll gamble. If they can buy it half for what the dealer is selling for, they'll take a chance on that, same as a wrecked car," said Scott.

Joe Scott strongly recommends buyers do their due diligence such as going on-line and see where the car has been, such as Scott throws this in for free for his customers at Joe Scott Motors. Scott knows what to look for and makes it a practice not to buy or sell flood damaged cars and trucks.

"It shows one owner, no accident, and it goes through all the things that could happen to a car," said Scott.

In the meantime, the 'lemon laws' in Alabama don't apply for used products such as flood-damaged vehicles.

"They will not extend to anything dealing with flood damage. In essence it's a buyer-beware market when it comes to any used vehicles," said Montgomery attorney Aaron Luck.

In the end, it comes down to taking your time, doing your homework, not being afraid to investigate and ask questions and by all means finding a vehicle with a reputable dealer.

"Trust me, never buy a car on emotions," said Canavan.

Gene Canavan was lucky. The corrosion was not a factor in the car's performance during the time he owned it. But others may not be as fortunate. The gamble for something cheaper could very well become an expensive lesson down the road. Joe Scott suggests also checking with the Better Business Bureau and don't be afraid to ask a dealer for references.

As a footnote to Hurricane Harvey, Harvey tied Hurricane Katrina with inflicting about the same amount of damage of around $125 billion, according to federal storm damage estimates.

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