Using NMVTIS to Protect Consumers from Flood Cars
Particularly for purchases from private individual or online sales, NMVTIS is a great way for consumers to protect themselves.
Natural disasters can leave a wave of destruction in their wake. Homes, businesses and other property can be visibly and obviously damaged in these events, but in some cases, the true extent of the damage is harder to see.
As a result of the flooding associated with hurricanes and other severe weather, like Hurricane Ian in the fall of 2022 or the historic flooding in California earlier this year, many vehicles have been left vulnerable to severe water damage. “Cars are cars—they’re not boats, so water is not necessarily their friend,” says AAMVA Senior Director of Special Projects Vivienne Cameron. “Of course you can drive your car in rain or what have you, but the car is not sitting in the water. They’re not really designed to keep water out. So when there’s a flood, and the vehicle is sitting in water for some amount of time, the potential is there for water to get into places that are not designed for water—electrical components, a variety of things, the braking system. You might not be able to stop when you want to.”
Flood damage can make a vehicle less safe—or downright dangerous. The vehicle’s electrical system, including airbag sensors and brakes, can be prone to failure. Following storms like Hurricane Ian, many states see flood-damaged vehicles enter their used vehicle markets for sale, titling or registration.
“We’re talking about any vehicle that was in the vicinity of a flood event,” says Vivienne Cameron. “Any vehicle is susceptible to flood damage if they are in the area and there’s a flood event.” Cameron says that though people may envision flood cars to be those completely submerged by rising waters, even cars that are submerged just to their floor boards can be flood-damaged.
“And I think for us, in the past five or six years, we have seen such an increase in these flood events caused by hurricanes, tropical storms, bomb cyclones, whatever the new term is in terms of climate. We’re seeing more and more of these events, which in turn means more and more of these cars affected by flooding.”
And it is not just the states hit by the storm that can see flood-damaged vehicles. Flood-damaged vehicles can potentially wind up on the market across the country, so it is important for every state to be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles.
Cameron says that after a flood event in one region of the country, cars can be taken out of the jurisdiction or the region where the flooding event happened very quickly after the flood waters have receded. “We’ve seen instances where unscrupulous entities will go into those areas, tow those vehicles out, take them and ‘spin’ them. They spin them dry, and they spritz them with new car smell and then ta-da! They take that car from, say, Florida to another state thousands of miles away on the other side of the country to where people may not even realize there was a flood event, and they offer that car for sale to an unwitting purchaser.”
And what looks like a great car at a great price might turn out to be a costly mistake for the purchaser. “Maybe a year, two months, three months down the road, you’re merrily on the road with your car and then it stops because the water has corroded some electrical component and it just shuts down. And there’s nothing to do at that point,” she says. “It’s a risk, and the potential of flood vehicles being sold to unwitting purchasers is really high. It’s a thing I worry about. People don’t know, and they’re trying to get a good deal, but it’s a bad car.”
The Department of Justice’s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is designed to protect consumers from fraud and unsafe vehicles and to keep stolen vehicles from being resold.
“NMVTIS is a national system that provides information about a vehicle’s history, its title—where it is titled currently as well as where it was previously titled—the odometer reading and history as well as the title history. It also captures any events—in the business we call them ‘brands’—events that affect the safety and the financial value of the vehicle. It’s a system that provides information for states, consumers and law enforcement about a vehicle’s history.”
All jurisdictions in the continental U.S. participate in the system by contributing title and brand data to include flood damage vehicles, as well as conducting an inquiry prior to retitling a vehicle. “Using NMVTIS, state motor vehicle agencies are able to confirm and validate information on a title before they retitle a vehicle. So if I’m taking my vehicle from Florida to Virginia, the intention is that the Virginia DMV staff will check NMVTIS to make sure that the paperwork that I’m showing that I’m the owner of that vehicle, they can validate the Florida system.”
NMVTIS is a powerful tool for individuals as well. “One of the wonderful things about NMVTIS is not only is it available to states, it’s also available to the general public. The general public can, in fact, check a vehicle history to determine if what is being presented by the seller of a vehicle actually matches what’s on the title record.”
Particularly for purchases from private individual or online sales, NMVTIS is a great way for consumers to protect themselves. “We always recommend – get a vehicle history report. We strongly recommend you get a NMVTIS vehicle history report because it has information from the states in terms of that vehicle’s history. The second thing is to always get that vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic. Those two things are really critical, because although you may visually look at a vehicle and say, ‘This is really great,’ particularly if it’s a good deal, you always have to validate how good a deal it really is.”
Learn more about protecting consumers from flood cars in this video and in this episode of AAMVAcast.
Hear more about NMVTIS in this AAMVAcast Episode.