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Beware of Flood-damaged Cars

The rains that accompanied Hurricane Irene are gone, but water-ravaged cars may soon flood the marke...

If you live on the East Coast, we don’t have to tell you about the widespread devastation that was caused by the flood waters of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. High water was virtually everywhere in the aftermath of the storms, and now cars that were damaged by the floods are making their way into the used-car market. According to the Insurance Information Institute, a number of flood-damaged vehicles will be cleaned up and then resold by shady salvage operators and dealers, who will illegally hide the vehicles’ flood-damage histories.

“Unscrupulous salvage operators and dealers often try to conceal the fact that the vehicles they are selling have been damaged by a natural disaster,” says Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokeswoman for the I.I.I. “It is not illegal to sell or buy a flood-damaged car; however, it is against the law to sell a water-damaged car without letting the buyer know that the car had been damaged by a flood.”

To help used-car buyers learn more about the history of a specific car and whether it has been declared as salvage by an insurance company that participates in the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the NICB created VINCheck, which provides consumers with a free search of a car’s vehicle identification number. This service can be accessed from the NICB home page.

“To avoid inadvertently purchasing a flood-damaged car, it is important that you only buy a used car from a reputable dealer, have a certified mechanic look for flood damage, and check the car’s VIN number by using a credible industry database,” says Salvatore.

The following are indicators that a car has been flooded and is subject to water damage:

  • Mildew, debris and silt in places where it wouldn’t normally be found, such as under the carpeting in the trunk and around the engine compartment
  • Rust on screws and other metal parts
  • Water-stained or faded upholstery, and discoloration of seatbelts and door panels
  • Dampness in the floor and carpeting, and moisture on the inside of the instrument panel
  • Intense odor of mold or deodorizer

If you suspect that your local car dealer is committing fraud by knowingly selling flooded cars without disclosing that fact, do not apprehend the dealer yourself. Instead, contact your insurance company, local law enforcement agency, or the NICB at 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422).



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