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Kelley Blue Book: What Hurricane Ian has done to the used car market


Hurricane Ian may have flooded 50,000 cars, according to a new estimate. Ian made landfall in late September as a Category 4 storm, crossed the state from west to east, recharged over the warm ocean, and made a second landfall in South Carolina.

On its path, Cox Automotive estimates, the storm destroyed between 30,000 and 70,000 cars. More precise estimates are difficult at this time, as insurance companies are still reporting claims. (Cox Automotive is the parent company of Kelley Blue Book.)

The news means several things for car shoppers. Used car shoppers will need to be unusually vigilant about the risk of flooded cars appearing for sale, and Floridians will need to buy a lot of replacement cars.

Flood-damaged cars may appear for sale

Flood-damaged cars can be repaired and returned to service, but doing so is often more expensive than it’s worth.

Cars declared totaled are generally given a salvage title and can’t be legally driven in the U.S.

Some states allow buyers to fix them and obtain a rebuilt title, making them legal to drive. Most insurance companies won’t offer comprehensive insurance on a car with a rebuilt title, but some will offer liability coverage.

However, a fraudulent process called “title washing” can put flood-damaged cars back on sale as if they are undamaged used cars. Fraudsters will buy damaged vehicles at auction and move them to a state with different title requirements and retitle it. Sometimes this succeeds in hiding the paper trail of flood damage.

Because fully repairing the car is expensive, they’ll make cosmetic repairs to hide the damage and sell the car.

Used car shoppers should learn the signs of a flood-damaged car.

Victims will need replacement cars

Those who lost their cars in the flooding will need new transportation.

Cox Automotive estimates that, at the speed of insurance payments, about two-thirds of the replacement shopping will happen in October and November. After most storms, about 66% of victims needing a replacement car buy it used. However, new cars are in short supply nationwide.

Also see: Florida’s insurance rates have almost doubled over five years, yet insurance companies are still losing money — and the reason is more insidious than hurricanes

This time, Cox analysts say, about 80% of the replacements could come from the used market. That could lead to “a modest uptick” in the wholesale price of used cars, even as both new and used car prices have begun to decline.

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