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Are You Unwittingly Driving A Salvaged Car?

Consumer advocates say Missouri's laws on salvage vehicle titles need to be strengthened. (Johny Rebel/Pexels)
Consumer advocates say Missouri's laws on salvage vehicle titles need to be strengthened. (Johny Rebel/Pexels)
March 25, 2019

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Thousands of drivers in Missouri could be driving cars that have been previously totaled in an accident, and never even know it. That's because current law says if the car is more than six years old, the title does not have to be stamped as salvage.

This week, a proposed new law that would change that - SB 369 - is expected to get a hearing in the state Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee. Jason Levine, executive director at the Center for Auto Safety, said drivers have a right to know what they're buying - no matter how many years the vehicle has been on the road.

"People should know that a car has been beyond 80 percent or more damaged,” Levine said. “And this is particularly of concern when things like flooded cars are at risk. It's really a consumer education bill."

SB 369 would remove the age limit on salvage vehicles so any car that has been totaled will forever have "salvage" on its title. Levine said some salvage cars can be repaired so they are safe to drive, but many can have invisible damage to the sensors and rot from the inside out.

Opponents of the bill say consumers already can get the necessary information with a title search, and note the change could hurt sales of pre-owned cars.

Levine said after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, lots of cars that had been flooded ended up for sale in states with weak salvage title rules.

"After there's a flood somewhere else in the country, and we certainly saw this the summer before last in Houston, Texas, a lot of those vehicles unfortunately get shipped around the country,” he said. “Some of them are fine, but some of them should probably never be driven again."

Missouri just declared a state of emergency because of flooding, and the spring rainy season is just getting under way. So there will likely be a lot of salvage vehicles coming out of the Show-Me State and across the Midwest in the coming months. Experts advise consumers to buy a report showing a vehicle's entire history and to get the car checked out by a mechanic before purchasing a used vehicle.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MO