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Online System Can Help Consumers Avoid Buying Flood-Damaged Vehicles

The following post appears courtesy of Denise E. O'Donnell, Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

 On August 29th, the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Irene was devastating the eastern coastline of the United States.  Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee both caused major flooding. Evacuations were ordered from Vermont to North Carolina.   As recovery efforts are underway, one flood-related hazard consumers may want to keep in mind is the impact of floods on vehicles. Severe water damage can make vehicles’ electrical systems, including their airbag sensors, prone to failure.  Despite compromised electrical systems, these vehicles may be dried out, cleaned, and sold to unsuspecting consumers. Consumers can protect themselves from unknowingly buying a flood-damaged vehicle by purchasing a National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) vehicle history report available at   This system was created by federal law and is the only publicly available system in the country that requires all insurance carriers, auto recyclers, junk and salvage yards, and states to report vehicle information.  Currently, there are 35 million salvage or total loss records in the system.  In addition, 87 percent of the country’s Department of Motor Vehicle data is represented in the system.    A NMVTIS vehicle history report provides information on the five key indicators associated with preventing vehicle-related fraud and theft:
  • Current state of title and last title date;
  • Brand history, a descriptive label assigned by states to indicate a vehicle’s current or prior state—for example: “junk,” “salvage,” “flood;”
  • Odometer reading;  
  • Total loss history; and
  • Salvage history. 
 The report also helps consumers verify the validity of the title to prevent fraud and identify vehicles that are potentially unsafe. If a vehicle has a brand, total loss, or salvage history, then the consumer is warned that the vehicle may be unsafe.  A NMVTIS vehicle history report does not include vehicle repair histories, recall information, and other care and maintenance data available in alternative vehicle history reports.  Shop smart. Make sure you have all the information about a vehicle before making a purchase.  For more information about NMVTIS, visit
Updated April 7, 2017