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As flood waters recede, risk of fraud rises


Buyers should beware when purchasing a used vehicle after a flooding disaster.


Damage caused by hurricanes and floods often spills over state lines in unexpected ways. While authorities are focused on helping rebuild areas damaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, others may be looking for ways to make a quick buck, such as selling flood-damaged vehicles.

Be especially careful in the coming weeks and months as thousands of hurricane-damaged vehicles may reappear for sale in all areas.

Use these tips from the National Crime Insurance Bureau and Better Business Bureau to avoid purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle:

  • Select a reputable car dealer.

  • Get a vehicle history report based on its VIN number.

  • Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged area and if the title is stamped 'salvage.'

  • Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and look for signs of water.

  • Test the equipment including lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, sound system (door speakers will often be damaged), heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.

  • Flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.

  • Check the interior of the trunk and glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dashboard for signs of mud, rust on screws or water damage.

  • Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.

  • Check for a well-defined line, or 'watermark,' and for musty odors resulting from mildew.

  • Look under the hood for signs of oxidation.

  • Aluminum and alloys will have a white powder and pitting.

  • Have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.

  • Trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, walk away.

Problems with flood-damaged vehicles are not always easy to spot or may not show up immediately. There can be many hidden problems, such as mold and mildew, computer malfunctions, rusty wiring, and safety items, such as airbags that don’t inflate.

Be sure to exercise caution when purchasing a vehicle following flooding disasters.

SOURCE: National Insurance Crime Bureau and Better Business Bureau