Anytime after widespread flooding in the U.S. — like the kind you have right now in the Northeast — you have to be wary about “flood cars” entering the used car market. Vehicles can be rebuilt and have their titles “washed,” then sold as if they were never damaged.
Here are the warning signs you need to look out for…
Flood cars, “curb stoners” and title washers
Dishonest people take flooded vehicles into certain states where they can easily wash the titles. But this kind of washing doesn’t involve a bucket, soapy water and a giant sponge. Far from it…
Washing is a euphemism for action that removes any evidence that the vehicle was ever in a flood. Cars with washed titles can then be sold to any dealership across the country that either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that they’re buying a flood vehicle.
These cars often end up in the hands of “curb stoners,” which are illegal dealers who run ads in the paper. They pretend they’re selling their sister’s car or their mother’s car and they hope you don’t know what they know.
To the naked eye, there’s no telling that anything is amiss with these cars. But you’ll know you’ve got a flood car when you encounter failed electrical systems throughout the vehicle.
4 steps to take to avoid buying a flood vehicle
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) posted a warning about cars and trucks that have been damaged by the flooding in Texas due to Harvey, and this applies to Irma as well.
Here are four steps to take when trying to spot a flood vehicle, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB):
Do a visual inspection
Check for water stains, mildew, sand or silt everywhere. That includes under the carpet, floor mats and dashboard, plus in the wheel well where the spare tire goes. Fogging in the headlights and tail-lights can also be a clue.
Give it the smell check
Does the inside of the car smell like a hospital? A heavy smell of disinfectant or other cleaners means someone is trying to conceal a mold or odor problem.
Vet the records carefully
Run the vehicle identification number (VIN) and check for any title problems, liens, odometer rollback, salvage history and more. We’ve got free VIN search options listed here. Then to be doubly sure, you should also run the VIN through a free database operated at NICB.org.
Hire a mechanic to take a look
Have any used car you’re considering buying inspected by a certified diagnostic mechanic of your choosing before you buy it. Choose an ASE-certified (Automotive Service Excellence) mechanic.
Garages that participate in the Blue Seal program typically feature the most highly trained ASE-certified mechanics. Visit ASE.com to find one near you.