Thanks to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, insurance companies will be declaring hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, and SUVs as flood-damaged vehicles. Half of these vehicles will be sold at insurance auctions as scrap vehicles, some will go straight to the junkyard for crushing, and others will be repaired and placed back in service. To bring top dollar, those that make it back onto the road will likely have their titles “washed,” so that official evidence of the flood damage is erased. If you’re in the market for a nice used car, and you’re looking for a great deal, you’re also the target of the people who buy flood-damaged vehicles, rebuild them, “wash” the titles, and sell them in another state without telling the new owner about the vehicle’s history.
You can avoid getting taken by these scam artists by spending a little money to perform due diligence on your prospective purchase. On the following pages, we’ll tell you what title washing is, how it works, and what you can do to avoid getting scammed as thousands of formerly waterlogged vehicles make their way north, east, and west from the Gulf Coast disaster zone.