The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's Department of Vehicle Regulation (DVR) is preparing for an influx of title requests for vehicles that have been deemed a total loss due to natural disaster damage in states such as Florida and Texas, then brought to Kentucky to be rebuilt.
"Our title requests for flood-damaged vehicles tripled after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Kentucky has a sizable 'rebuilt car' industry, and many vehicles deemed as scrap or junk make their way into our state," stated John-Mark Hack, commissioner for the Department of Vehicle Regulation. "Consumers need to be aware that many of these vehicles will be hitting the market, and there's a potential for issues with a rebuilt automobile."
These are issues that mechanics and car experts are aware of and know to look for when it comes to checking on a car and its safety.
"What they got to realize is these cars have been sitting in water for quite some time," said Tom McLeod. "You just don't know what's going to happen on the internal part of the car."
McLeod is the owner of McLeod's Body Shop in Ashland, and says it's not often he sees a rebuilt car come into his lot, but it does happen.
Flood-damaged vehicles in other states are given a scrap title or junking certificate. Florida uses a certificate of destruction; Texas provides a non-repairable title. After arrival in Kentucky, flood-damaged vehicles undergo a "rebuild" process that typically involves only cleaning the interior and exterior and changing the system fluids. These vehicles are then sold at a significantly reduced cost.
McLeod says those reduced costs end up just not being worth the trouble you will face in the long run.
"Yeah, they're going to look great from the outside---everybody's going to clean them up, but your rotors, inside your motor compartment...a year or two down the road, they're not going to last,” McLeod said. “You're going to have all kinds of problems."
"If a buyer finds a deal on a vehicle that seems too good to be true, then it probably is," said Commissioner Hack.
Under Kentucky's current law, the title applicant must submit two photos of the vehicle and two estimates of damage costs: the fees for cleaning and changing fluids. If the damage cost is less than 75 percent of the vehicle's retail value, then the DVR issues a new certificate of title. The new title is printed in red ink with the words REBUILT VEHICLE on the face of the title. This is done in an effort to alert consumers of the vehicle's history.
Officials say car buyers need to do their homework before buying a rebuilt car. They say to get a copy of the vehicle history report and even have a mechanic look over it. McLeod says that's a service his shop offers.
"All the time people come in here, especially if it has a rebuilt title," said McLeod. "They want us to look at it because we can look at the frame [and] we can look at how it is put together. We'll recommend if it's worth buying or not, and I have seen a lot that aren't worth buying."
Officials add getting a loan or even insurance for a rebuilt car can be tough. They also should keep in mind that driving a rebuilt car or truck back to the state where it was originally given a scrap title runs the risk of the vehicle being confiscated if they are stopped by law enforcement.