Beware of Flood-Damaged Used Cars

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The recent flooding in Texas has wreaked havoc on thousands of Houston-area residents, endangering lives and damaging property. According to Copart, a company that works on behalf of insurers to handle the vehicles damaged in catastrophes, an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 insured vehicles suffered water damage in the floods. This catastrophe also marks an opportunity for dishonest used-car sales.

“Unfortunately, some of the flooded vehicles may be purchased at bargain prices, cleaned up, and then taken out of state where the VIN [vehicle identification number] is switched and the car is retitled with no indication it has been damaged,” the National Insurance Crime Bureau said in a statement.

Related: Storm Surge: Beware of Title-Washed Cars

The NICB cautions that used-car shoppers should be vigilant in the weeks and months after a major flood. The agency recommends the following steps to ensure you don’t end up with a flood-damaged used car.

  • Select a reputable car dealer and use a VIN checker to ensure the car does not have a salvage title. Use’s dealer reviews to find a respectable dealer in your area. Browse’s used-car inventory and use our free VIN checker tool.
  • Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpet, floor mats, headliner and dashboard.
  • Inspect the upholstery and door panel materials for fading.  
  • Check for rust around screws in the center console area and areas water doesn’t usually reach.
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment and in small crevices under the hood. Also look for rust and corrosion under the hood.
  • Inspect the seat belt retractor for moisture, mildew or grime.
  • Check to make sure the speakers work; door-mounted speakers will often be damaged in a flood.
  • Pay close attention to the wheels; aluminum alloys may be coated in a white powder and show signs of pitting, small dimples in the material.
  • Have a mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.  
  • Lastly, trust your instincts. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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