It is unconscionable that two years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged America, cars and trucks that were damaged by storm floodwaters are still being foisted on unsuspecting dealers and consumers. It is time for Congress to protect Americans by requiring auto insurers to provide vehicle information whenever they declare a car or truck a total loss.
About 571,000 vehicles were damaged in the aftermath of Katrina and two other hurricanes that pummeled the Gulf Coast in 2005, according to Carfax Inc., a vehicle history reporting company. Of those damaged vehicles, an estimated 250,000 already have been or soon will be returned to the road by unscrupulous operators.
Each year in the United States, 5 million vehicles are designated as “totaled” by insurance companies and sold as salvage. Yet thousands of those vehicles — many unsafe and potentially lethal to consumers — end up being repaired, retitled and sold.
Many states brand titles with words that show when vehicles have been totaled, but crooks can get clean titles in states with insufficient safeguards. Ideally, every state would brand titles, but legislation that would require branding has failed to garner much support.
A bill introduced by Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., would require the next best thing: a searchable national database on which insurers that take possession of heavily damaged cars would be required to disclose that the vehicles are rebuilt wrecks.
The Lott bill, which is opposed by insurers, is languishing in committee.
It is high time that the Democrat-controlled Congress do the right thing and pass the Lott bill, even if it means stepping on the toes of the powerful insurance lobby.
Americans deserve at least that much.