9 Investigates: Flood-damaged cars from Sandy make way to NC, SC

by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - They call them submarines -- the cars submerged by Hurricane Sandy's angry floodwaters -- and sent to salvage.

Not all of the submarines have sunk permanently

"Once the vehicles were sold at auction, I would say probably within a months' time, they started showing up in North and South Carolina," said Walt Woloszczuk, an agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Woloszczuk is an agent with the national insurance crime bureau and he, and other agents have been tracking flood damaged cars being sold in online salvage auctions and cleaned up by unscrupulous car dealers

"They'll try passing the paperwork between several states, by the time a certain state realizes what they have, they've washed the title," Woloszczuk said.

At the North Carolina DMV license and theft bureau, inspectors like Andrew Pinney are trying to catch those cars and brand them as "flood damaged," as a warning to potential buyers.

"The dealers have to come and get them inspected prior to being titled," Pinney said.

Pinney's boss, Lt. Tommy Ratliff, said dealers can even bleach the ink off titles from other states, removing the "flood damage" brand and leaving the potential buyer with no knowledge of the car's true history.

"The dealer is required by law to disclose the damage," Ratliff said.

Earlier this year, Ratliff and state authorities investigated a case of fraud, where a woman in eastern North Carolina unknowingly purchased a flood damaged Hyundai from a local dealer.

It wasn't until the car began having electrical issues that investigators found these almost hidden signs of damage -- mildew and rust.

Investigators tracked the car's history from the dealership in Brooklyn where it was flooded by Hurricane Sandy to an online auction in Pennsylvania where the title was washed to North Carolina, where even the local dealer had been fooled.

"We discovered through the investigation that the dealer was actually a victim too," Ratliff said.

Authorities said that's why car buyers need to protect themselves.

Look around the brake areas, look for saltwater damage and have a mechanic check the floors, spare tire wells and even inside the gas cap for mud, rust or salt stains.

Pull up part of the rubber striping in the door wells and pull out the seat belts to check for mildew or mold.

Consumers can also purchase vehicle history reports for ties to the northeast.

If not, you could be Hurricane Sandy's next victim -- one year later.

"And there's no one to hold accountable for that? You're stuck with the bill," Woloszczuk said.


For more information about flood-damaged cars, click here.