Buyer Beware: Your Used Car May Have Been in a Hurricane

Just because a hurricane has dissipated doesn’t mean it has stopped cutting a path of destruction throughout the United States. Those who think that the danger is gone once the flood waters have receded might be in for something of a rude awakening – especially the thousands who might be buying flood damaged cars without even knowing it.

It’s something that happens after every major hurricane. The car market is suddenly “flooded” with used cars priced so low that they may raise your eyebrows. Although a price that’s too good to be true isn’t always a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with someone who’s selling damaged cars, it can certainly be taken as a warning sign that the vehicle you’re eyeing might have seen a troubled past.

Because buying flood damaged cars can cost you a fortune in repairs and because they can actually be dangerous on the road, it’s critical that you know what to look for to ensure you’re not buying into one.

  • Be wary of buying cars from private sellers without getting a full inspection.
  • Always have a qualified mechanic perform an inspection, regardless of who you’re buying a used car from.
  • If you decide to deal only with car dealerships, ensure the one you’re patronizing hasn’t been in the news lately and hasn’t seen the inside of too many courtrooms. This may require you to do some homework, but it’ll be worth the effort to rule out any seedy dealerships.
  • Look for mildew, water stains and sand under the floor mats and carpeting.
  • Evidence of mud or dirt in the spare tire stowage is often another sign that a car’s been underwater.
  • Lift the hood and look for rust around electrical connections and general oxidation.
  • Rusty screws will also tip you off to a vehicle that’s been exposed to flood water.
  • Use VINCheck, a free service from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which will tell you if a car’s been damaged in a flood, stolen, or declared as salvage. The NMVTIS (National Motor Vehicle Title Information System) is also another great resource to check a vehicle’s history before putting down your hard earned money.

It’s perfectly legal for someone to sell a car that’s been previously damaged in a flood. What’s not legal is selling damaged cars without disclosing their full history to a buyer first. If you own a flood damaged car and sell it to someone without being totally up front about it, this omission could get you into serious hot water. If you want to avoid being suckered into buying a flood damaged car, never let a price that’s too good to pass up prevent you from doing your due diligence.