Car buyers wary of flood-damaged vehicles


News of flooding from recent storms that hit several states may prompt scammers to attempt to pawn damaged vehicles as standard used cars.

These vehicles typically appear in auto auctions, used car dealerships, and classified ads. Unsuspecting consumers, especially those who live in areas unaffected by hurricanes or floods, are often fooled by new upholstery, new carpeting and bargain prices.

Katie Galan of the Better Business Bureau says, “Once owners of damaged cars settle with insurance companies, the vehicles are sometimes refurbished and resold. Flooded cars are often transported far beyond the original area where the major flood or storm occurred to places where consumers may be less aware of damage and warning signs.”

Galan says that sometimes an intermediate buyer intentionally hides a car’s history as a flood-damaged vehicle through a process known as “title washing”, and sells it to an unsuspecting buyer in a state unaffected by the disaster. Many mechanical problems can occur in flooded cars, and vehicle corrosion caused by floodwaters can take years to surface. When problems become apparent, the seller is gone and the new owner is left with an unreliable vehicle with no recourse against the seller.

The Better Business Bureau strongly advises used car buyers to beware of unscrupulous companies and individuals who may attempt to sell flood-damaged cars as standard used cars without revealing the vehicle’s history.

BBB offers the following tips to help determine if a used car is flood damaged:

Ask to see the title. Check the date and place of the transfer, verifying the origin of the car. If the title is stamped “recovery” or is from a recently flood-damaged state, ask questions. Consider purchasing a vehicle history report, which includes information if the car has ever been tagged as “salvaged” or “flood damaged” in any state.

Check the dashboard carefully. Examine all gauges to make sure they are accurate and there are no signs of water. Look for indications that the salvagers may have removed the dashboard.

Check the electronic components. Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater, and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack – wet wires usually become brittle once they dry out.

Check interior spaces. Look in the trunk, glove box, and under the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust, or water damage. Check for open drain holes in the bottom of the vehicle.

Check the condition of the fabrics. Look for faded, faded, or moldy upholstery and rugs. Recently washed carpets can be cause for concern. Carpet that has been replaced may be too loose or may not match the interior color.

Get a vehicle history report from a database service. The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s free database lists flood damage and other information. NICB reports are only useful if the previous owner insured the car. 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 happen. as the electrical system deteriorate.

Don’t forget to check under the hood. Look for standing water, mud or grit in the spare tire well or around the engine compartment under the hood.

Take a smell test. A strong aroma of cleaners and disinfectants is a sign that there may be a mold or odor problem.

Always check the dealer’s BBB business profile on and find a reputable used car dealership near you.


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