The Houston area, where the Car Pro Show has been heard for over a dozen years has experienced a catastrophic hurricane. The large amounts of rain caused flash flooding, destruction, death, and countless numbers of flooded cars. From previous floods and hurricanes, we know that these cars will resurface all over the country in the months and years ahead.
According to vehicle history report provider CarFax, it’s not uncommon for 50 percent of the cars affected by floods to return to service, some requiring only minor repairs, others a full overhaul.
The most severely damaged vehicles, those declared salvaged by their insurance carriers, can put used car shoppers at risk, as less reputable dealers, and some private sellers, try to sell them without full disclosure, or through outright fraud.
These cars are typically unloaded at auctions to be used for parts, or exported to countries with lower safety standards than the U.S. They can, however, be repaired and issued clearly marked “salvage” titles that must remain with them for the rest of their operational lives.
That is, of course, if the parties involved have gone through the proper channels. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, it’s not uncommon for shady operators to go to states with less restrictive regulations governing vehicle registrations to score clean titles for their dirty cars, then return to sell them to unsuspecting customers. This practice is called “title washing”.
These transactions often take place through classified ads or on street corners, but sometimes at otherwise legitimate looking car dealerships. Unfortunately, it’s usually up to the customer to sniff out a raw deal.
Along with the financial and legal hassles that can go along with buying an improperly registered vehicle, flood-damaged cars present several potential safety and health hazards to passengers including faulty electrical systems that can lead to stalling and fires, as well as persistent mold and bacteria infestation.
As I often say on the Car Pro Radio Show, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and buyers in the market for a used car in the near future need to be very careful unless purchasing from a reputable dealership.
There are also things to watch for yourself. Remember, these cars can turn up anywhere, at any time.
Here are 10 tips to help you avoid buying one of these cars down the road:
- Check for a moldy smell inside the car and feel the carpet for dampness.
- Ask questions about an older car with a brand new interior or carpeting.
- Check for rust under the brake or gas pedals.
- Look for dirt or rust under the dashboard and floor mats.
- Inspect the bolts and screws under the seats for evidence of rust.
- Check the undercarriage for excessive rust.
- Check inside the trunk under the carpet in the spare tire well area for rust, dirt or sand.
- Look for corrosion, watermarks, or a thin brown line on the exterior of the vehicle.
- Check to see if the electrical system works.
- Check the VIN number with AutoCheck or Carfax to see whether a flood claim has been filed or a salvage title has been issued on the vehicle.