Advertisement
spending

After a Hurricane, Beware Flooded Cars for Sale

If you're buying a used vehicle in an area recently hit by a hurricane, check to make sure it doesn't have any flood damage.

Question: I've heard that after a major flood consumers need to be careful not to buy cars with undisclosed flood damage. Are there any resources or advice on how to find out whether a used vehicle has storm damage?

Answer: Some great resources are available to help you avoid buying a flood-damaged car. And this is going to be a big issue starting in a few weeks, when cars that were flooded in Hurricane Harvey (and most likely Hurricane Irma) start making it onto the market. Within about a week of Hurricane Harvey, car owners submitted 170,000 storm-related insurance claims, says Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Many of those cars will eventually be declared a total loss by the insurers, and some of them will end up being sold to unsuspecting consumers. In fact, more than 325,000 cars flooded from Hurricane Katrina, superstorm Sandy and other major storms are still on the road, says Christopher Basso, a spokesman for CarFax Inc., a site that provides history reports on used vehicles.

Advertisement - Article continues below

When cars are damaged by floods, the body can rust prematurely, wiring can become brittle, and the electrical and mechanical systems can break down. If there's enough damage, the insurance company will declare it a total loss and pay the claim for the value of the car. Cars that are declared to be a total loss are usually retitled with the department of motor vehicles, and the new title will disclose that the vehicle has been flood-damaged. In many cases, those cars are sold to companies that will dismantle them and resell usable parts. But sometimes people try to sell these cars without revealing the flood damage, which could create big risks for the buyers.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Find out whether a car has serious storm damage by searching the National Insurance Crime Bureau's VINCheck database, which was developed after Hurricane Katrina. The database shows whether the VIN for the car was declared a total loss or salvage. (It also shows if it's an unrecovered stolen vehicle, which can be a separate problem.) CarFax's free Flood Check reports whether a car has a flood or salvage title from the state DMV, was declared a total loss by the insurance company, or was reported as flooded by repair shops.

These resources are very helpful, but not foolproof. Flooded vehicles won't show up in the databases if they weren't insured or had only liability coverage, not comprehensive. Also, sometimes crooks take the autos to another state, switch the VINs and retitle the cars, so the damage won't show up in a search.

If you're buying a used car—especially one that shows up in a few months and seems unusually cheap—it's a good idea to have a mechanic inspect the vehicle for some of the telltale signs of flood damage. These include, according to CarFax, rust inside the car and around the doors; upholstery or carpeting that is new, loose or doesn't match; mud or silt in the glove compartment or under the seats; and brittle wires around the dashboard.

TAKE OUR QUIZ: Does Insurance Really Cover That?

Advertisement
Advertisement

Most Popular

Election 2020: Joe Biden's Tax Plans
taxes

Election 2020: Joe Biden's Tax Plans

With the economy in trouble, tax policy takes on added importance in the 2020 presidential election. So, let's take a look at what Joe Biden has said …
September 18, 2020
Social Security Recipients, Veterans Must Act Now to Get Extra $500 Stimulus Check
Coronavirus and Your Money

Social Security Recipients, Veterans Must Act Now to Get Extra $500 Stimulus Check

The deadline for seniors and veterans to request an additional $500 stimulus check for a dependent child is approaching fast. See how you can claim yo…
September 25, 2020
3 Reasons to Wait Until 70 to Claim Social Security Benefits
social security

3 Reasons to Wait Until 70 to Claim Social Security Benefits

In a rush to file for Social Security benefits at age 62? Many people are, but slow down and do the math first.
September 29, 2020

Recommended

When Is Amazon Prime Day 2020?
spending

When Is Amazon Prime Day 2020?

Circumstances beyond its control have forced Amazon to move its annual Christmas-in-July Amazon Prime Day blowout sale in 2020 to ... later. Prime Da…
September 28, 2020
18 Things You Can't Return to Amazon
Smart Buying

18 Things You Can't Return to Amazon

Before tossing these items into your virtual shopping cart, be sure to read Amazon's return policy first.
September 17, 2020
No Summer Vacation This Year? What to Do with the Money You’ve Saved
spending

No Summer Vacation This Year? What to Do with the Money You’ve Saved

Maybe that trip to Hawaii you dreamed about didn’t happen, but look at the bright side: You have a nice little windfall to plan for.
September 2, 2020
The Five Top Consumer Complaints
Smart Buying

The Five Top Consumer Complaints

Here are the top five complaints from a survey of state and local agencies from 19 states.
August 27, 2020