Saying no to Sandy-soaked vehicles

DETROIT -- Hurricane Sandy hit Manfredi Auto Group’s Mazda Kia Mitsubishi dealership in Staten Island, N.Y., pretty hard. That has forced them to be extra vigilant in planning how to cope post-disaster. Other dealerships might do well to consider taking similar steps.

The dealership showroom and almost 300 new and 30 used vehicles at the dealership and at a separate storage lot were submerged in up to six feet of salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. In the aftermath, the company moved the brands’ operations to another nearby showroom it owns.

The company has already removed its Sandy-soaked vehicles and is making sure it doesn’t buy anyone else’s by mistake, says Viraaj Lall, sales manager at Fiat of Staten Island, which is part of the 12-dealership group based in Staten Island, N.Y.

“We have to look at every car, in the trunk, underneath the hood, because it’s not going to show up in Carfax for the next six months,” says Lall. Manfredi Kia Mazda Mitsubishi was located about a mile and a half from the beach when Sandy struck.

“If you look in the trunk and remove the padding on the sides, that’s where you’ll see the line for the flood damage. Its ocean water -- salt water -- which is not easy to come off. And look at the spare tire; you’ll notice if there is water damage or not.

“Sometimes you have to put the car on the lift, but you have to take proper precautions. We have a reputation on the island.”

It’s still too early to know how many vehicles were damaged by the storm two weeks ago, but it’s never too early to be on the lookout for the cleaned-up clunkers.

According to Carfax, a vehicle history reporting company, about half of the estimated 640,000 vehicles damaged in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were resold as “whole units” as opposed to being sold as parts.

Carfax spokesman Larry Gamache says Carfax will add flood designation to the vehicle history reports as soon as the information becomes available, but that timetable depends on a lot of factors, such as how quickly insurance claims are processed.

Within the next week or two, though, Carfax will attach “alerts” on the histories of vehicles that were titled in federally designated “disaster” areas during the storm to advise buyers to inspect the vehicles more closely, Gamache says.

“For approximately half of these vehicles, we see an opportunity for sale,” he says. “Whether or not that prior flood damage is properly disclosed is a huge question.”

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