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Thousands of new vehicles heading to the crusher after Sandy flooding

December 10, 2012

With cleanup from hurricane/superstorm Sandy still underway, the estimated costs of its damages have risen to a range of $30 billion to $50 billion, making it the second-most expensive storm in U.S. history. Here's a sliver of those costs —thousands of new cars and trucks caught in Sandy's floodwaters, which now have a pending appointment with the crusher. The trouble: A few may escape and have their titles washed instead.

Unlike the classic cars which may appeal to a collector with a penchant for hunting rust and electrical issues, there's no salvaging unsold new vehicles immersed in up to three feet of brackish water. The National Insurance Crime Bureau says in one Brooklyn lot alone, 7,000 new cars were dunked — and all but 800 of them have already been hauled away and crushed. One NICB investigator opened one Nissan and found even a month after the storm hit, there's still floodwater sitting in the cupholders.

NICB estimates 230,000 vehicles will have insurance claims from Sandy, for everything from door dings to being washed away. Most of the new cars will be crushed or stripped for parts — but there's a chance that some will be sold with a salvage title as flood damaged. Even with databases that track VIN numbers, those salvaged cars can be passed from state to state, and eventually sold to an unknowing customer with a new title that doesn't list the vehicles' amphibious history. NICB also says it's seen an uptick in scams by towing companies, which have hauled vehicles off New York-area streets without permission, then charged owners and insurance companies with swollen storage fees.

NICB offers a free VIN check service for consumers to see if a vehicle has ever been given a flood-related salvage title. And it recommends owners call police if they suspect they're the victim of a towing scam — another layer of muck to dig out in Sandy's wake.