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Scam alert: Beware buying a flood-damaged car

Now that the historic flood waters from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have receded, the next flood could be a wave of water-logged cars headed to a used lot near you. (Image credit: Consumer Reports)

Now that the historic flood waters from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have receded, the next flood could be a wave of water-logged cars headed to a used lot near you. And don't be fooled, flood-damaged vehicles sold without disclosing the damage is illegal in most states. But that doesn't mean it won't happen. Too often, when an insurance company declares a flood-damaged car a total loss, that information isn't communicated to potential buyers.

Consumer Reports found that some flood-damaged vehicles are sold with clean titles -- meaning a flood-damaged car could easily find its way back into the used-car market. If a car doesn't carry maximum insurance, flood-damage may not be disclosed in the car's title. Consumer Reports says a mechanic should conduct a thorough inspection, but there are things you can do, too.

  • The first thing you want to do is come over to the front of the car, inhale and see if there's any kind of moldy or musty smell. If you have that, you definitely want to walk away from the car.
  • Next, pop up the trim panel on the side of the door to see if the carpet is dirty or if there's any kind of sediment in there or rust.
  • Also, look in the door pockets. If there's any kind of sediment in there or dirt or stones, that's what happened when the water came up and into the car, and as it drained away it settled and hid in there.
  • Pop off some of the caps and covers for the seat bolts. If these are scratched or even look rusted, that means the seat was taken out so it could air dry.
  • Look where a spare tire would be kept. If it's got sound deadening, smell if it's musty or moldy smelling. See if there's any rust on exposed screws, on the panels or even on the tools like the jack or the jack stand.
  • Look along the back of the engine bay, and there's some soft material there. It's sound deadening. When water rose and stays when the car is flooded, it's going to recede and leave a flood line. If there's anything like that, walk away from the vehicle.

And, although helpful, Consumer Reports says vehicle history reports are no guarantee that a car is problem-free.

If you're from an area affected by a flood and have a car that wasn't damaged, be aware that buyers might be wary. Consider having a mechanic inspect your car before you put it up for sale so you can present potential buyers with a clean bill of health.

All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2017 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumer.org.

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