Superstorm Sandy left plenty of victims behind. Many of them were automobiles. Since the storm, an estimated 60,000 insurance claims have been filed for personal and commercial vehicles. The past three months saw a nearly 6,000 percent spike in flood-damaged and salvage vehicle titles processed.

Vehicles damaged by Sandy at Insurance Auto Auctions in Morganville, NJ (Townsquare Media)

State officials on Thursday announced a partnership to educate the public and prevent consumers from unknowingly inheriting the problems of a vehicle damaged by Sandy. Many of those vehicles can end up being resold.

"It is perfectly legal to sell a flood-damaged or salvage vehicle, but only one that has properly been titled as such," explained Raymond Martinez, Chairman of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.

Properly-tagged vehicles can be found at reputable automobile dealers across the state. However, not all cars are sold from registered lots. Martinez warned potential car buyers to be on the lookout for those trying to sell a damaged car without sharing its past.

"If somebody's trying to sell a flood-damaged vehicle, they're going to do things to try and mask that damage," he explained. "On the outside, it will not look like a damaged vehicle."

Salt water can take some time, even years, to present the problems it caused. Martinez said the electronic and operational damage can be irreparable.

The MVC offered the following tips for consumers:


  • Check the vehicle's title history and be wary if the vehicle has been titled multiple times over a short time period.
  • Obtain a vehicle history report from the dealer, or get one yourself from a reputable source; this will let you know if the car has been damaged in the past.
  • Look for an insurance company's name on the title history, and contact the company for vehicle information.


  • A musty or moldy smell or the strong scent of a deodorizer all over the car
  • Rust on metal parts where water would not normally touch
  • Water-stained upholstery or water damage on the door panels or seat belts
  • Mildew, silt or debris in areas around the engine compartment, under the carpeting or in the trunk

As part of the partnership between the MVC and the State Division of Consumer Affairs, a 24-7 online database has been launched to prevent vehicle fraud. Consumers can search the database by Vehicle Identification Number, make, model and year to verify whether an automobile has been damaged by flood or other means.

"Already, the database has 13,000 vehicles in it, the vast majority of which are there as a result of Sandy," said Eric Kanefsky, Acting Director of Consumer Affairs.

Consumers who believe they have already been cheated or scammed in the car buying process can call 1-800-242-5846 or file a complaint online.