Auto Laundry News - December 2012

Sandy’s Reach

By Stefan Budricks, Editor

Compared to the loss of life, destruction of property, and disruption of power supply and other utilities caused by Superstorm Sandy, the inconveniences experienced by businesses such as ours in northern New Jersey were a mere trifle. The absence of electricity made our offices inaccessible for more than a week, and though many colleagues were dealing with storm complications of their own at home, a substantial amount of work got done at these troubled off-site locations.

Once power was restored, we were able to get back to our normal routine pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for thousands up and down the eastern seaboard. If we did not know it before, Sandy informed us of the fragility of our homes, possessions, and conveniences, affecting every aspect of our lives. Even automobile sales are destined to feel the influence of the storm, as an estimated 250,000 vehicles were flood-damaged.

Thousands of new cars at dealerships and storage yards in New Jersey and New York were damaged by the storm. Toyota/Scion/Lexus lost around 4,500 vehicles, according to the Los Angeles Times (November 9, 2012), while Honda reported 3,000 damaged units. Kelley Blue Book anticipates little effect on new-car prices, reasoning that this late in the year there is a typical market slowdown, which increased demand in the Northeast will do little more than mute.

The used-car market is more susceptible to price pressure due to an already tight supply occasioned by the dip in new-car sales in ’09 and ’10, which slowed the flow of trade-ins. Projected price increases for used cars range from an estimated $200 to $300 by Kelley Blue Book to between $700 and $1,000 anticipated by Edmonds.com.

In the wake of Sandy, buying a used car presents special risks. It’s not easy to identify a once-flooded car. Some states, New York and New Jersey among them, have laws governing the labeling of flood-damaged vehicles, but unscrupulous dealers and owners have been known to move such cars to other states where they then acquire a clean title.

The Los Angeles Times points out that, faced with rising prices as a result of the storm, consumers might consider a properly restored and titled salvage or flood-damaged vehicle that is also appropriately priced an economical option. They might be buying more trouble than the discounted price is worth.

As far back as 1999, Hank Stott, our then reconditioning columnist, warned detailers of the perils of being asked to work on a flood-damaged car. Not only is the cleanup itself a daunting task, but so is managing customer expectations. His advice then — and still valid now — was to regard every flooded car as salvage or “totaled.” This is particularly true of vehicles immersed in saltwater. Damage might not be immediately evident, but problems, especially with regard to electronic components and corrosion, can crop up at any time down the road.

Once the customer is fully informed of the limitations of a reconditioning job, the detailer can get started. Stott warned that this is a taxing and time-consuming undertaking that involves virtually stripping the interior of the car, a specialty task for which few detail shops have the necessary equipment and tools. Still, for adventurous detailers, flood-damaged cars may provide an opportunity.

A brief housekeeping item: Part II of the design article, “Building it Big in Boise,” originally scheduled to appear in this issue, will now run in the February issue. We apologize for any inconvenience.

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