How not to get duped into buying a flood-damaged car

Personal Finance

Flood damage in cars can take time to surface. And consumer advocates expect a stream of flood affected cars to enter the market in coming months following a string of hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida. Hurricane Harvey reportedly damaged between 500,000 and 1 million cars alone — double the number of vehicles damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

“Cars are rolling computers these days,” said John Van Alst, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “When water gets as high as it did with Harvey, we’re going to see significant damage.”

So if you plan to buy a used car — and that goes for anywhere in the country, there are steps you should take to make sure you don’t drive away in a four-wheeled canoe.

Like people, cars have a record, known as a “vehicle history report.” Most states require that flood-damaged cars disclose a so-called flood or salvage title on this report. You can check a car’s record, using the Vehicle Identification Number, located on the drivers’ side dashboard, with the National Insurance Crime Bureau, CarFax and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information Center.

“That’s an easy way to see if there’s already reported damage to the car,” Van Alst said, “but you still want to get it inspected.”

That’s because people are not always honest about their car’s history. Some people will rush to sell their car or truck before the flood or salvage title appears on the record. Others, known as “title washers,” move cars to states where titling laws are more lenient.

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