In the wake of the recent floods in the southeast region during the 2017 hurricane season, the selling of previously flooded cars is a growing problem. Cox Automotive estimated over 500,000 cars were flooded in Hurricane Harvey alone, making it the worst in terms of vehicle damage in history.
After the owners of damaged cars settle with their insurance companies, vehicles are sometimes refurbished and resold. Flooded cars are often transported well beyond their original region after major storms to locations where consumers may be less aware of what warning signs to look for. Sometimes, a middleman 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. Among many possible mechanical problems faced by flooded cars, corrosion can take years to surface later that can cause electrical and mechanical problems. By the time they become apparent, the seller is gone, and the new owner is left with an unreliable vehicle along with no recourse against the seller.
The Federal Trade Commission offers the following tips to avoid purchasing a flooded vehicle:
- “Look forwater 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. 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.
- Have your mechanic inspect the car’smechanical and electrical components, and systems that contain fluids, for water contamination.”
If you suspect a dealer is knowingly selling a storm-damaged vehicle as a good-condition used car, contact your auto insurance company, local law enforcement or the NICB at 800-835-6422.