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Canada gets its fair share of harsh weather but over the past few months, concern has been directed across the border to the United States and the Caribbean where hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria struck with full force.

The devastation wreaked on the US by the string of natural catastrophes is clear – but what isn’t so widely understood are the far-reaching consequences of these dramatic US storms and how Canadians might be impacted.

Manitoba Public Insurance has released a consumer awareness advisory around flood-damaged vehicles in the used-car market, recommending that anyone looking to buy a second-hand vehicle from the US should perform strict due diligence and check the status of the vehicle before closing a deal.

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It’s estimated that more than one million vehicles were flooded or heavily damaged due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Any vehicles that are branded as flood or water-damaged are considered non-repairable or junk by the Registrar of Imported Vehicles upon entry to Canada. Border control staff will block any brand 5 (non-repairable) water-damaged vehicle from entering the country.

“We wanted to notify Manitobans that they need to be careful if they plan to purchase a used-vehicle from the US. If that vehicle has had its status changed to water or flood-damaged, they will not be able to bring it back across the border,” said Brian Smiley, media relations coordinator at Manitoba Public Insurance.

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“There are some Manitobans who travel down south for the winter. They may come across a vehicle that looks pristine and perhaps they won’t do their due diligence and check into the history of the vehicle – they just buy it. But when they come back to Canada, the vehicle might not be allowed entry because of past water damage. That would certainly cause huge inconvenience for the person who made the purchase.”

Of course, this isn’t just a potential issue for Manitobans; it’s relevant for anyone looking to purchase a used-vehicle from across the border, and it’s something for brokers servicing the auto insurance space to be aware of.

Another thing to consider is the issue of water-damaged vehicles passing border inspection because past owners chose not to make insurance claims, meaning their vehicles lack proper branding.

“If someone with a water or flood-damaged vehicle in the US chooses not to make an insurance claim, but instead decides to clean the vehicle up themselves and sell it privately, that vehicle might not register as flood-damaged,” Smiley explained. “Oftentimes these vehicles look brand new and have an appealing price, so they can be very attractive to the consumer.

“But as time goes on, water-damaged vehicles will cause problems. For example, if water has entered electronic components of vehicles, it can cause corrosion and malfunctioning of important safety features such as airbags. There could also be other issues around mould and other toxins.”

The public insurer shared some tips for people to consider before purchasing a used-vehicle. The first is to carry out a VIN search and vehicle inspection. Prospective buyers should also check for damp, musty odours, rust and water lines.