Consumer agencies warn about flood damaged cars from U.S. hitting Cdn market

TORONTO _ Consumer protection agencies are warning those shopping for used cars to stay alert as some vehicles damaged in the recent floods south of the border may appear on the Canadian market.

The agencies say vehicles caught up in hurricane Harvey and other disasters will likely be disposed of by insurers but some may be imported into Canada and sold to unsuspecting drivers.

They say the vehicles may seem to be in perfect condition because the damage caused by flooding can take months or even years to manifest.

The Automobile Protection Association says the issues may not be flagged in a history report or come to light in an inspection.

It recommends buying from a dealership or finding out where a used vehicle comes from and steering clear of those from the areas hit by extreme weather.

The association’s director, George Iny, says no cases have been reported so far, likely because any flood-related problems have not yet emerged.

“It wouldn’t happen so quickly, that a consumer would become aware of that,” he said.

Typically, vehicles damaged in floods make their way across the border after being sold for parts, then are cleaned up and reassembled, he said.

“They would put it on the road and it would be retailed to someone here, possibly as a U.S. vehicle, but they wouldn’t tell you it was a U.S. write-off,” he said.

Ontario’s vehicle sales regulator and Quebec’s consumer protection agency both issued warnings this month about flood-damaged vehicles from the U.S.

“Authorities in the U.S. have told us they expect about half a million vehicles to be flooded as a result of hurricane Harvey alone,” said Tom Girling, director of investigations for the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council. “And they expect many of them will end up being exported _ including to Canada.”

Water is “insidious,” said the council’s director of communications, Terry O’Keefe. “It gets into everything and causes corrosion.”

Over time, water damage can keep airbags from deploying, cause the car’s computer to shut down or ruin electric steering systems, he said.

Registered dealers are legally required to disclose if a vehicle has been declared a total loss or has sustained flood damage, among other things, but private sellers are under no such obligation, the council said.

It also said to beware used vehicles priced below market value.