Town officials want to junk storm-damaged cars

Cars are partly submerged with sand outside a Cars are partly submerged with sand outside a home on Louisiana Street in Long Beach after superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 2, 2012) Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

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A Smithtown Town official has asked state lawmakers to draft legislation calling for thousands of storm-damaged cars to be scrapped for salvage -- lest they be resold to unsuspecting buyers.

Councilman Thomas McCarthy, a former auto dealer, said he fears the cars -- many of them compromised by wiring corroded by saltwater -- may wind up on out-of-state used-car lots.

"People all over the country are going to end up buying cars they think are good but were under 3 feet of water," he said. "They should basically take every single one of these cars and just shred them."

An estimated 230,000 vehicles in the region were damaged or destroyed by Sandy, according to insurance industry estimates. Thousands have been stored in vacant lots in Calverton and Speonk while officials process insurance claims.

State law says the titles of damaged vehicles must be stamped "flood" to warn prospective owners of potential problems. Saltwater can ruin computer-controlled fuel and braking systems, heating and air-conditioning, and other components.

State Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said McCarthy raised "a valid point," adding he has asked state researchers to examine existing laws. He would consider drafting legislation if it appears current statutes are inadequate, he said.

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A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he would await legislation before commenting.

In a recent bulletin, the National Automobile Dealers Association, a trade group, said damaged cars "offer a tempting opportunity for criminals to defraud unsuspecting consumers." But a spokesman said the group would not support moves to destroy the cars.

The auto dealers group, and an Illinois firm that plans to auction thousands of cars from Sandy, said car buyers can trace a vehicle's history through online databases from the insurance and auto industries that disclose whether they were salvaged from storms.

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Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst agreed the cars should not be resold. "We want to make sure that the consumer is protected," she said.

McCarthy said many states do not require vehicle titles to indicate that a car may have sustained flood damage, and destroying cars is the only way to ensure they are not resold. Parts such as fenders could be salvaged, he said. "All they're doing is perpetuating future potential fraud," he said. "It's going to be massive buyer beware for a long, long time."

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