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Hurricane Season: Beware the Bargain RV

Hurricane Michael Aftermath: Beware the bargain RV

By now we’ve all seen the carnage left behind by Hurricane Michael’s broad sw

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eep across the Florida panhandle and the southeast U.S. The good news is that Michael should leave the continental U.S. some time on Friday and head back out to sea. Good riddance, indeed.

Unfortunately, the hard work has just begun for all involved. Untold homes and businesses will require expensive repairs or complete demolition/reconstruction. Power lines in every direction will need to be re-strung and new poles planted. Fallen trees will need to be cleared and countless flooded cars -and RVs- will be scrapped or repaired and returned to service.

The problem with hurricane flood damage and vehicles doesn’t end with mopping out and a thorough carpet cleaning, though. Hurricanes are ocean-borne and they bring in salty sea water, which is extremely corrosive to metals, electrical systems and the wiring that connects them. Corrosion is a patient predator, though. Survivor vehicles that appear healthy today may begin to exhibit puzzling faults and failures in the years to come and any or all systems may be affected: lights, anti-lock braking systems, emissions controls, dash lights, and engine monitors. Nestled deep within every RVs’ chassis is a wiring harness that acts as the nervous system for the entire vehicle. A wiring harness submerged in sea water even briefly may continue to corrode for years after and reveal itself as an endless array or frustrating and hard to diagnose maladies.

And that’s the problem for the RV buyer drawn to the Too-Good-To-Be-True bargain: many water-logged and wind damaged RVs that are at this moment mired hip deep in muck and retreating flood waters will be written off by insurance companies in the days ahead and sold off as Salvage vehicles to the type of sketchy profiteers that pop up like mushrooms in the aftermath of all disasters. These people are excellent at assessing those vehicles that can be superficially cleaned up and re-sold for a significant profit. In the months ahead there will be a bumper crop of “Insurance write-off /minor water damage/ runs great” RVs appearing on sites like E-Bay and Craigslist.

Chances are the seller will acknowledge the Salvage title. These are logged with the state when auctioned and extremely difficult for unsavory types to hide. Instead, they announce the salvage status up front, but then downplay the damage, implying a marginally affected vehicle that was written off without a thorough inspection.

This is where the bargain hunter gets burned. Insurance companies know their business and they don’t slap a Salvage sticker on a vehicle unless they absolutely have to. Designating a vehicle as salvage means they will be releasing a check for the full amount of coverage to the owner -this is usually the worst case scenario for the insurance company. If the insurance company determines it will be cheaper to write a check for the full coverage amount than attempt a repair, it’s worth noting and wise RV buyers should take heed.

That’s it for this week, folks. Drive safe and check those tire pressures before hitting the road.

For those interested in helping the people affected by Hurricane Michael, the New York Times has published a list of reputable agencies and foundations, so you can make sure your donation gets to the intended people. We’ll include a link here: Hurricane Michael: How To Help