“Flood cars” imported to Washington risk public safety

November 12, 2015

OLYMPIA—Expect the impact of killer floods in Texas and king tides in South Carolina to spread beyond those regional economies as thousands of flood damaged vehicles find their way into other states, including Washington.

While it’s not necessarily illegal to sell a salvaged “flood car,” some sellers are unaware of the vehicle’s true history or wouldn’t disclose it if they did. So, it’s up to the consumer to be vigilant when car shopping.

The first step every consumer should take when they find a vehicle is to check its identification number (VIN). The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck service is free, but may not be as comprehensive as a service like Carfax. And, neither is a defense against purchasing an unreported flood car or one with an altered title.

Flood damage can be hard to spot on a vehicle that has been pulled from floodwaters and thoroughly cleaned. They look like any other vehicle, but are a significant risk to public safety because of compromised electronic and mechanical systems.

Dirty floodwater causes rust and damages major mechanical parts and onboard computers that are often located under seats or in other low points in vehicles.

These tips can help to spot potential flood-damaged vehicles:

  • Before buying any used car, always get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. The extra cost may save money in the long run if major problems are discovered.
  • Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped “salvage.
  • Use an online vehicle history tracking service like Carfax.com to get more information about a vehicle’s past.
  • Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and to look for signs of water.
  • Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.
  • Check the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
  • Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.
  • Check for a well-defined line, or watermark, and for musty odors resulting from mildew.
  • If the car’s history seems suspicious, ask the seller if the car has been damaged by floodwater. Get the answer in writing on the bill of sale.

The playlist below features two videos that address how to identify possible signs of a flood damaged vehicle.


Consumer Alert: Beware of Bogus Phone Claims

September 11, 2012

 A Washington resident tells us that a company recently called him to say it had learned from the “DMV” that he was paying too much for auto insurance. 

Rest assured, the Department of Licensing keeps no record of the amount you pay for insurance.

In fact, whenever a company tries to sell you something by claiming to have DOL data, it should raise red flag.  That’s because we don’t release data for marketing purposes.

However, we do have a sincere interest in protecting you from bogus claims and possible scams. 

For example, earlier this year, several websites emerged offering to help provide driver licenses for a fee.  While those websites might appear to be official, they are NOT affiliated with the Washington State Department of Licensing.  And unlike those websites, DOL never charges a fee for customer service or for the use of any of our forms.

Here’s the video we produced earlier this year regarding those questionable websites; showing yet another example of how suspect companies are trying to take advantage of consumers.


Recent KING 5 report about DOL facial recognition program contained a false statement

January 24, 2012

Individuals who fraudulently obtain Washington state driver licenses and ID cards present a serious risk to the safety and economic health of our residents and businesses. To fight this type of illegal activity, DOL has been working with the State Legislature for several years to obtain the authority to use a proven, non-invasive facial recognition system already in use for our Enhanced Driver License program to monitor regular driver license and ID card transactions for potential fraud.

In a story broadcast during the 11 p.m. newscast on January 23, 2012, KING 5 stated that DOL operated facial recognition software for regular driver license and ID card transactions without legal authority. This is a false statement. DOL was fully authorized to operate this system as a pilot program by our state’s 2009-2011 transportation budget. This budget, passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor on May 13, 2009, contained this provision:

“(7) The department may seek federal funds to implement a driver’s license and identicard biometric matching system pilot program to verify the identity of applicants for, and holders of, drivers’ licenses and identicards. If funds are received, the department shall report any benefits or problems identified during the course of the pilot program to the transportation committees of the legislature upon the completion of the program.”

The pilot program ended when the 2009-2011 transportation budget expired. We are now working with the Legislature to make the use of this technology a permanent part of our processes.

DOL appreciates KING 5’s efforts to keep the public informed about the use of our facial recognition system, but it is important for the public to understand that DOL has not used this system in any way that was not fully authorized by law.

The use of facial recognition in our Enhanced Driver License program and in our regular driver license and ID card processes during the pilot program from November 2009 through June 2011 has demonstrated a need to have this system in place to make sure DOL is doing everything possible to protect public safety and the personal identity information of our state’s residents.

The use of facial recognition in our Enhanced Driver License program and our pilot program has identified three primary reasons individuals fraudulently obtain multiple driver licenses or ID cards. These are:

• To continue driving after a driver license suspension or revocation

• To purchase or consume alcohol as a minor

• To engage in criminal activities including identity theft

In 2011, the use of facial recognition by our agency resulted in 571 driver license suspensions and the cancellation of 560 fraudulent records and the associated cards. We also are working our way through 3,800 more cases of fraud identified by the facial recognition system during the pilot program.

Our facial recognition system also has allowed us to identify cases where individuals were maintaining multiple identities to fraudulently collect benefits through state entitlement programs.