Two years ago, Hurricane Katrina wrecked or flooded hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks along the Gulf Coast. Some are still reaching the used-vehicle market, their damage undisclosed to dealers and consumers.
No one knows exactly how many. Industry and consumer groups say many vehicles battered by Katrina got new, “clean” titles in other states that hid their flood damage.
Marc and Megan Johnson say they got stuck with a Katrina car. In May 2006, the couple bought a 2005 Pontiac Grand Am from Joyce Superstore, a dealership in suburban Chicago. They paid about $14,000.
Only after the sale was complete did the Johnsons learn that the car had been titled with a flood brand in Louisiana, says their lawyer, Norman Lehrer. It was registered in a part of the state that Katrina pounded, he says.
The Johnsons quickly found the Grand Am hard to start and to drive, Lehrer says. A trained mechanic who examined the car said it “was defective and not fit for operation on public roadways at the time of sale,” Lehrer told Automotive News.
Lehrer says the car was worth less than $4,000. But when the Johnsons tried to return it to the dealership, he says, they were rebuffed.
The Johnsons are arbitrating their dispute with Joyce Superstore, which changed ownership last month. They want their money back for the car, along with other damages Lehrer would not quantify.
The dealership's former president, Michael Vassallo, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. David Painter, COO of one of the dealership's new owners, Bemis Automotive Group, says his company has “no knowledge” of the dispute.