Flood damaged vehicles may be sold, Here’s How NOT to buy one

Anyone considering purchasing a used car in the next months should exercise extreme caution.

Thousands of flooded cars are expected to be among the personal property destroyed as storm-ravaged areas assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ida. While flood-damaged cars may have titles that reflect it, the system isn’t perfect, so some of these vehicles are likely to be purchased by unwitting buyers.

“Unfortunately, we see fraudsters try to swindle consumers by selling cars damaged in water following significant hurricanes or flooding events,” said Tully Lehman, public affairs manager for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The enormous demand for secondhand cars this time around is exacerbating the risk of fraud, as the global shortage of microchips continues to stymie new vehicle production. Experts believe that this demand could provide an opportunity for scammers to take advantage of buyers’ eagerness to close a deal.

On Aug. 29, Hurricane Ida crashed into Louisiana, then continued inland, finally hitting the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. The storm wreaked havoc on the area with devastating flooding, severe winds, storm surge, and tornadoes. This followed two earlier major storms that delivered severe rains throughout the Southeast and Northeast.

On September 03, 2021 in New York City, a teenager cleans water out of a car in a flooded Queens neighborhood that suffered significant flooding and countless deaths following a night of high wind and rain from the remains of Hurricane Ida.

According to Carfax spokesman Chris Basso, over 378,000 flood-damaged cars were already on the street before Ida arrived.

“If history repeats itself, we might be looking at tens of thousands more [flooded] vehicles, with a good portion of them making it back onto the market,” Basso added.

Electronics, lubricants, and mechanical systems in automobiles can all be destroyed by floodwaters, albeit slowly. According to ConsumerReports, corrosion can eventually reach the car’s key components, including airbag controls.

Regardless of when or where they acquire a used car, buyers should always check the “vehicle history report” to be sure they know what they’re getting. Flooded cars are frequently sold in locations far from where they were first damaged.

You may enter a car’s vehicle identifying number, or VIN, into services like Carfax or the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck to discover if its history contains any red flags. However, you might not be able to learn everything there is to know.

When an insurance company receives a claim for a flooded car and determines that the vehicle is totaled — that is, the cost of repairs exceeds the car’s value — the title is usually altered to reflect the situation.

According to Best Car Insurance, those destroyed autos are often sold at salvage auctions to junkyards and vehicle rebuilders. It may be lawful to resell them to customers if the title indicates the flood damage.

Unfortunately, we find scammers attempting to defraud consumers by selling cars that have been damaged by flooding following large hurricanes or flooding occurrences.

However, not all car owners make a claim with their insurance company. They’re normally out of luck if they don’t have comprehensive coverage, which is the element of automobile insurance that covers flooding. As a result, without the involvement of an insurance provider, the flood damage may not be formally recorded anywhere.

“Unfortunately, there will be individuals who, since they do not have flood insurance, will attempt to clean their car and sell it to unwary customers at some point down the road,” Lehman stated.

There are even some dealers that will clean up flooded automobiles and sell them, whether locally or in a state with less severe titling laws.

“This necessitates a thorough inspection of autos, even on lots,” Lehman explained.

According to Carfax, there are a few factors to check for in a used vehicle that could indicate flood damage:

  • A musty odor in the interior that some vendors try to mask with a powerful air freshener;
  • Upholstery or carpeting that is loose, fresh, stained, or doesn’t appear to be in keeping with the rest of the interior;
  • Carpets that are wet;
  • Rust on the inside of the hood and trunk latches, under the dashboard, on the pedals, or around the doors;
  • In the glove compartment or under the seats, mud or silt;
  • Under the dashboard, brittle wiring;
  • Interior lights, outside lights, or instrument panel fog or moisture beads
  • You should also take the automobile for a test drive and have it inspected by a reputable mechanic.

“And keep in mind that if a deal appears too good to be true, it probably is,” Lehman warned. “Follow your intuition and leave if you have a bad feeling.”

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