Thousands of flood-damaged cars expected to flood used car marke - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Thousands of flood-damaged cars expected to flood used car market

Hurricane Wilma storm surge in 2005. (Source: Marc Averette) Hurricane Wilma storm surge in 2005. (Source: Marc Averette)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

As many as 1 million vehicles were submerged, soiled and spoiled by Hurricane Harvey’s catastrophic floodwaters.

That's twice the number of vehicles destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy combined.

Whenever a major hurricane triggers flooding, thousands of vehicles which have been "totaled" by auto insurers slip out of the impacted area and, in many instances, end up on the used car market, where buyers may be unaware the vehicle has a “salvage title,” or the title has been “washed.”

AAA is warning buyers to have any vehicle closely inspected before you buy.

Signs of water damage may include:

  • waterline under the hood, undercarriage and bumpers
  • mud and debris inside the cabin and trunk
  • signs of rust inside the vehicle
  • fogging inside the headlights and taillights
  • the scent of disinfectants or cleansing agents used to cloak musty smells, mold or mildew
  • carpet or floor mats with traces of wetness
  • signs that the carpets, seats and interiors were recently shampooed

Before buying, check to see if the vehicle was flooded, using VINCheck at www.nicb.org.

The trouble is most unsuspecting car buyers don’t know the difference between a salvage title and a flood title, warns the Federal Trade Commission:

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. The title status is part of a vehicle history report.

“Let the buyer beware” is the age-old watchword for consumers to abide by when they find deals too good to be true on used or new vehicles for months to come. Consumers should also be wary of websites that allow car buyers to bid on salvage flood-damaged vehicles.

AAA offers these tips for used car buyers:

  • Obtain a CARFAX Vehicle History Report – This report can potentially reveal if the vehicle has been involved in a flood, major crash, fire, or uncover odometer fraud.
  • Conduct a title search of the vehicle. Check the VIN number at VINCheck.
  • Check the vehicle’s VIN with appropriate government agencies or your state bureau of motor vehicles.
  • Analyze the ownership pattern for any new or late model vehicle with no lien holder.
  • Be careful about purchasing a used vehicle from an individual running a newspaper ad and using a cell phone number. Check for title or registration histories indicating the car was in a flood area.
  • Look for information from a vehicle’s current title, including the vehicle's brand history. “Brands” are descriptive labels regarding the status of a motor vehicle, such as “junk,” “salvage,” and “flood” vehicles.
  • Look for any reports of the vehicle being transferred or sold to an auto recycler, junk yard, or salvage yard. Select a reputable car dealer when buying a used vehicle in the aftermath of disasters.
  • Look for the latest reported odometer readings to detect odometer tampering or fraud.
  • If possible, have your insurer check to determine if the vehicle was previously insured in a flooded area.
  • Trust your instincts. If you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away.

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