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The floodwaters from last year’s hurricanes receded months ago, but their wrath could still affect used car buyers across the nation. That’s because storm-damaged cars are sometimes cleaned up and taken out of state for sale. You might not know a vehicle is damaged until you take a closer look or have a mechanic check it out.

Here’s what to do:

  • Look for water stains, mildew, sand, or silt under the carpet, floor mats, and dashboard, and in the wheel well where the spare is stored. Look for fogging inside the headlights and taillights. New carpet or upholstery in an older vehicle may be another red flag.
  • Do a smell test. A heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants is a sign that someone’s trying to mask a mold or odor problem.
  • Get a vehicle history report from a database service. There are reliable services that charge a small fee. The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) free database lists flood damage and other information. But take note: NICB reports are only helpful if the car was insured. If the owner of an uninsured flood-damaged car tries to sell it on the open market and you’re the buyer, you may never know there’s a problem until things like the electrical system go bad.
  • Understand the difference between a “salvage title” and a “flood title.” A “salvage title” means the car was declared a total loss by an insurance company because of a serious accident or some other problems. A “flood title” means the car has damage from sitting in water deep enough to fill the engine compartment. The title status is part of a vehicle history report. Either way, every used car needs an inspection and records before you buy, but with salvage- and flood-titled cars, you need to be extra careful.
  • Have your mechanic inspect the car’s mechanical and electrical components, and systems that contain fluids, for water contamination.
  • Report fraud. If you suspect a dealer is knowingly selling a storm-damaged car or a salvaged vehicle as a good-condition used car, contact your auto insurance company, local law enforcement agency, or the NICB at (800) TEL-NICB (835-6422). You’ll help someone else avoid a rip-off.

For more tips, check out our used car page.

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12 Comments


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dp3456
January 12, 2018

I bought one in 1998 and I should have returned it when the secretary of state didn't want to issue plates because it had 2 different Vin numbers, I wish I did because it caused a serious accident that made me disabled

Angela
January 23, 2018

In reply to by dp3456

Greetings, I just had my car for two years but, last year raining season damages the car. Insurance does not honor payments even do I pay full cover insurance. Is that right for them to do?. Looking for someone that knows oppinion..
osdu1725
January 12, 2018
this is not healty for the user
TF
January 12, 2018
Yea, Nowadays its difficult to trust anyone. Such a pity. I knew this was going to happen. People need to be VERY VERY careful. Even seemingly brand new cars, taken straight from flooded new car lots will be up for sale. Buyer beware! IMHO perhaps the best strategy to completely avoid this problem is to buy only 2018 model year vehicles.
OK2LOVAGN
January 23, 2018
The best way to avoid buying a new 'flooded' vehicle is wait until summer 2018 and buy the new models for 2019. Avoid stressful issues of trading in your older model to buy a new one by using this tactic. If you're okay to buy used vehicles or even last years, use the advice above and have your potentially new vehicle checked out 'first'-then decide what's best for you. Good luck!
Carlos E. M
January 23, 2018
I am glad that I have received this information through my email notifications. I will be able to spread this news by word of the mouth and sharing this email. The time passes by and people forget about the hurricanes and the floods that brought so much devastation, and some unscrupulous people, and business people take advantage to fraud naïve and honest citizens. Thank you.
sabrina69@
January 23, 2018
As always, Buyer Beware *****
The El
January 23, 2018
Buy a 2018-2019 model?! Yeah, right! Not everyone can afford a vehicle that now costs as much as a house use to cost. ):o! I wish I had this info before I bought my current car. The mold has gotten into my heatiing/AC vents. But overall it's a good car.
Jarees
January 23, 2018
Check the fuse box, fuse box receptors and the fuses for signs of corrosion. Look at the rear tail light connections also for corrosion, most resellers of flood cars don't bother to change or clean these. If you see green or a white powder like build up, like the corrosion on a car or household battery, beware.
Butbig
January 23, 2018
Mold will cause serious medical problems and can kill you
Ozman
January 24, 2018
I don't think locals will need to be worried about these flooded cars. Most big dealers send them to the other side of the USA to catch people out who may have forgotten the floods or weren't affected.
LJP
January 25, 2018
There are hundreds of acres on the southern area of Dallas, TX where there are THOUSANDS of automobiles that came from the Houston area, just waiting for YOU. Beware!