In the wake of the recent hurricanes, used car buyers should use caution: Storm-damaged vehicles are sometimes cleaned up and taken out of state for sale. You might not know a vehicle is damaged until you take a closer look or have a mechanic check it out.
Here’s what to do:
- Look for water stains, mildew, sand, or silt under the carpet, floor mats, and dashboard, and for fogging inside headlights and taillights. New carpet or upholstery in an older vehicle may be another red flag.
- Check for a heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants, which is a sign that someone’s trying to mask a mold or odor problem.
- Get a vehicle history report. Before you buy any car, you always want to check the car’s history. Start at vehiclehistory.gov, which is run by the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. But to get flood damage information, go to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s free database, which lists flood damage and other information for cars that were insured. (If the car you’re buying didn’t have insurance, it won’t be in that database.) Of course, there are other reports that have additional information, like accident and repair history – learn more at ftc.gov/usedcars.
- Understand the difference between titles. A “salvage title” means the car was declared a total loss by an insurance company because of a serious accident or some other problems. A “flood title” means the car has damage from sitting in water deep enough to fill the engine compartment. The title status is part of a vehicle history report.
- Have your mechanic inspect the car for water contamination.
- Report fraud. If you suspect a dealer is knowingly selling a storm-damaged car or a salvaged vehicle as a good-condition used car, contact the NICB.
For more tips, check out our used car page.