Flooding the Used-Car Market – Hundreds of thousands of cars were damaged by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but in this country where people are moving all the time, a car flooded in TX can end up on the used car market in NH within weeks.
It’s not illegal to sell flood-damaged vehicles, as long as both parties are aware of the situation. The problem is, there are plenty of shady sellers who conceal a car’s backstory from unsuspecting victims. Flood-damaged cars can be bought on the cheap by nefarious “entrepreneurs,” cleaned up to disguise what they’ve been through, and then taken to a state with lax title regulations, where they can be “title washed,” a process by which totaled cars can get spiffy new titles that won’t identify them on vehicle databases as damaged.
Flood damage is easier to conceal from untrained eyes than damage caused by a wreck, and it can be more insidious. The effects of water damage are often delayed, with rust taking months or even years to corrupt a car’s computer and electronic systems, including vital safety features.
Consumers can aid their cause by doing the following:
- Take your prospective vehicle to a trusted mechanic for a pre-purchase once-over. They can find things such as water lines, debris in the engine compartment and hard-to-see locations, rust buildup on nuts and bolts, interior-damage clues, and so forth—all red flags.
- Buy your vehicle from a reputable dealer. Dealers might be fooled and unwittingly sell flood-damaged cars, but they are more likely to refund your money if flood damage is discovered after the fact.
- Contact the National Insurance Crime Bureau and/or Carfax. They may have beneficial (and free) information concerning a vehicle and its flooding history.
Remember, if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.