How Can I Avoid Buying a Car that was Flooded in Hurricane Irma or Harvey?

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, car buyers must pay close attention to the vehicles they are offered. Fraudulent sellers are putting cars on the market that have sustained extensive flooding and water damage without providing adequate warning to buyers. While salvage auctions typically provide information on each car through a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), other dealers try to sell cars with false or misleading information.

According to the NY Times article by Norman Mayersohn, there are steps you can take to avoid buying a flood-damaged vehicle.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Check the Vehicle’s Title History

Checking the car’s title history can help ensure the vehicle has not been branded as flood-damagd, salvaged, totaled, or marked beyond repair at any time in its history. You can use the VIN to find out this information, and there are many free websites that will let you research the car’s title history. In addition, AutoCheck, Carfax, the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINcheck, and other flood car databases and online services can provide the information you need when researching the car’s history.

However, these services are limited. Not all vehicles are listed on the websites, which means you may not be able to look up the car’s title history. Only the cars that have been covered by insurance companies in the specific organizations are listed. Furthermore, states differ in their definition of salvage. If a car is flooded but otherwise has little apparent damage, it may be returned to the road with some small repairs of electrical parts. In certain states, this would not require the car to be listed as salvaged, even though it is likely that internal corrosion could cause it to short circuit later on. Thus, checking the title history is helpful, but not always reliable.

2. Look for Underlying Signs of Flood Damage

If a vehicle has been marked as salvaged or having sustained flood-damage, this information must be provided to buyers. However, there are still loopholes in the system that some dealers try to take advantage of to sell flooded cars without disclosing the car’s history. This makes it important to use discretion and a keen eye when buying a used vehicle after a hurricane. While a car may look fine on the outside, there are some clues you can look for to determine if it has suffered water damage.

There are several signs of water damage in cars that have been flooded in a hurricane. These include:

  • Mud or debris in small spaces of the car, such as under the hood
  • Rusty exposed screws under the dashboard
  • A water line on the reflector or lens of the headlights
  • Mud or a musty odor on the carpet
  • Newly replaced carpet in an old car
  • Removed rubber drain plugs under the car doors (often to drain water out)

By paying attention to these small details, you can avoid buying a flood-damaged car. A vehicle with water damage may look fine on the outside and even drive well with a few replaced electrical parts. However, the rust, corrosion, and other internal effects of the water can cause it to short circuit soon after the sale.

In addition, buyers must beware of car parts at auto body shops after a hurricane. Parts that have been submerged in fresh or salt water may not last very long, and could end up costing even more down the road. Having a reliable mechanic inspect the car before you buy it can help you avoid spending money on a car that will fail within a few months or years.

Call The Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor Today at (828) 266-0216

At our firm, we represent clients in a variety of consumer law issues. If you have been a victim of auto dealer fraud after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, we can represent your rights in court. Whatever your situation, our Hickory consumer attorneys can provide diligent legal services as your pursue a favorable outcome.

Contact us today for a free consultation. Our office is available 24/7 for your convenience.

Reference: New York Times

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