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ICBC warns customers about the potential for flood damaged vehicles to enter the B.C. marketplace

Tens of thousands of U.S. vehicles damaged by Hurricane Sandy

December 3, 2012

flood damaged vehicle

ICBC is warning customers to be especially cautious when purchasing or importing vehicles from the U.S. because of the likelihood of a high number of vehicles being flood-damaged as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

According to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Transport Administrators, tens of thousands of vehicles on the U.S. east coast have been submerged in salt water and contaminated by bacteria and various toxins as a result of Hurricane Sandy. These vehicles will soon begin appearing in jurisdictions all over North America, including B.C.

"More than half a million vehicles were seriously damaged in the flooding caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and thousands were imported into Canada despite the fact that those vehicles are not legal to drive on our roads," said Mary Polak, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. "Because the safety of motorists is our top priority, several steps have been taken to prevent these vehicles from being registered in B.C. but we want to help protect British Columbians from purchasing them in the first place."

Vehicles imported from the U.S. are processed through Transport Canada's registrar of imported vehicles program under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Through the program, the vehicle status (i.e. normal, salvage, rebuilt or non-repairable) shown on U.S. vehicle titles are captured and made available to all licensing jurisdictions in Canada. Flood damaged vehicles will be assigned a 'non-repairable' status and will not qualify for on-road use in Canada.

Flood damaged vehicles can be extremely unsafe and pose serious risks on the road. Flood damage can seriously compromise a vehicle's electronic and computer systems, which control everything from the steering, brakes, engine, airbags and other major safety systems.
"Unfortunately, there are some dishonest individuals out there who will always try to capitalize on tragic events like Hurricane Sandy and sell flood damaged vehicles to unknowing customers without revealing their true condition," said Mark Francis, manager of provincial vehicle registration and licensing at ICBC.

It's estimated that more than 3.2 million U.S. vehicles are labeled as damaged due to extreme weather and accidents each year. Sadly, nearly 27 per cent of these vehicles are retitled as undamaged in another state.

To best protect yourself, try to buy a vehicle only from a licensed dealer. Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of British Columbia (VSA) is reminding all its licensed dealers to redouble their efforts when researching the history of the vehicles they sell.

"As dealers are required to know and disclose the history of the vehicles they sell, it's troubling that so many vehicles get retitled and sold to unsuspecting buyers," said Ian Christman, registrar at VSA. "This is another reason that a thorough inspection of a vehicle before purchase is vitally important."

If you're planning on buying a new or used car from a private seller, here are some tips that can help you detect flood damage in a vehicle and avoid being taken advantage of:

  • Ask about damage: Ask the seller directly whether the car has been damaged by water or anything else and get the answer in writing.
  • Check for water damage and look out for:
    • damp or musty odours inside the vehicle and in the trunk
    • signs of rust and mud in the vents, trunk, glove box and beneath the seats and dashboard
    • rusty brackets under the seats or carpets
    • discoloured upholstery or carpet that fits poorly or doesn't match exactly
    • a water line underneath the hood that has been marked by mud or silt
  • Test everything: Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter and radio. Turn the heater and air conditioner on/off several times just to make sure they work. Make sure that all gauges are in working condition.
  • Get it inspected: Prior to purchasing a used vehicle, have it inspected by a trusted and certified mechanic. A technician specializing in electrical and electronic diagnosis should be consulted if you suspect the vehicle may have suffered flood damage. Find an inspection facility near you.
  • Research the vehicle's history: Companies such as CarProof and Carfax offer history reports on vehicles from the U.S. CarProof has even set up a free online tool that searches its database to look for flood titles and storm area registration and can tell you if a vehicle has ever sustained water damage in the U.S.
  • Ask for the vehicle's U.S. registration: Note that the registration will only indicate flood damage if the seller's insurance company officially declared the car to have been salvaged.

For more essential information on importing a vehicle, contact Transport Canada's registrar of imported vehicles at 1-888-848-8240.

Media contact:
Lindsay Olsen