It was bound to happen. Following every major flood or hurricane, scam artists try to pawn off flooded vehicles as standard secondhand cars. Industry experts report that Katrina-damaged vehicles are now popping up at auto auctions, used car dealerships and in classified ads. Unsuspecting consumers, particularly those living in regions of the country unaffected by hurricanes or flooding, are led astray by fresh upholstery, new carpeting and bargain prices.
The Better Business Bureau urges used car buyers to be cautious of unscrupulous businesses and individuals who may try to sell Katrina-damaged cars as standard secondhand cars, without revealing the vehicles' history. To determine if a used car is flood-damaged, auto shoppers should:
- Ask to see the title. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped "salvage." If you are still suspicious, purchase a vehicle history report of the vehicle, which should tell you if a car has ever been tagged as “salvage” or “flood damaged” in any state.
- Carefully check the dashboard. Examine all gauges to make sure they are accurate, and there are no signs of water. Look for indications that the dashboard may have been removed.
- Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying.
- Check the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage. Look for open drainage holes in the bottom of the vehicle.
- Look for discolored, faded or mildewed upholstery and carpeting. Recently shampooed carpets may be cause for concern. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.
- Look for standing water, mud or grit in the spare tire wheel well or around the engine compartment under the hood.
Remember to always check out the reliability of the dealer by contacting the local Better Business Bureau. Also, before buying any used car, you should get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic.