B.C. auto insurer sounds warning over flood of Sandy-damaged cars

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

If you're car-shopping in the next few months, you might want to steer clear of any suspiciously good deals on used vehicles imported from the United States.

The Insurance Corp. of British Columbia (ICBC) is warning Canada should expect a flood of waterlogged survivors from Hurricane Sandy showing up here for sale.

The Crown-owned auto insurer has issued an alert after the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators warned to expect flood-damaged vehicles from the storm-ravaged area to start showing up in other states for sale, titling and registration.

The association said that while U.S. national vehicle-titling system regulations are designed to flag written-off vehicles, the 30-day reporting requirement means some flood-damaged vehicles could find their way to the used-car market before the information shows up on the database.

The association is telling its members, which includes Canadian motor-vehicle administrators and police, to beware.

"Such water damage can make a vehicle's electrical system, including airbag sensors, prone to failure," the association says.

Flooded vehicles may not only be prone to corrosion from salt water but also contaminated by bacteria and other toxins, ICBC warned in its news release.

[ Related: 7 ways to avoid hurricane-damaged vehicles ]

"More than half a million vehicles were seriously damaged in the flooding caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (in 2005) and thousands were imported into Canada despite the fact that those vehicles are not legal to drive on our roads," Mary Polak, B.C. minister of transportation and infrastructure, said in the release.

"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."

ICBC said Transport Canada's registrar of imported vehicles program provides the status of vehicles as shown on their U.S. titles, and the information is 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," ICBC said.

The insurer said flood-damaged vehicles can be extremely unsafe to drive because the water can compromise 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," Mark Francis, manager of provincial vehicle registration and licensing at ICBC, said in the release.

ICBC spokesperson Lindsay Olsen told Yahoo! Canada News that it has not yet heard of any Sandy-damaged vehicles showing up in B.C., "but we would expect them to first arrive in Ontario, Quebec or New Brunswick due to proximity."

"Based on research that we did, we estimate that there were less than one hundred vehicles that entered B.C. as a result of Hurricane Rita and Katrina due to a number of steps that were taken to prevent these vehicles from being registered in our province," Olsen added.

[ Related: Superstorm Sandy shook the U.S. like an earthquake ]

"That being said, if a U.S. vehicle was flood damaged in a storm, and the vehicle wasn't given a flood-damaged vehicle title by the state, these vehicles couldn't be identified as flood vehicles.

"That's why we're asking customers to learn how they can detect flood damage in a vehicle and avoid being taken advantage of."

ICBC advises having the vehicle inspected prior to purchase and researching its history through private databases such as U.S.-based Carfax and CarProof, a Canadian vehicle-history service that has set up an online flood-damage tool.