How to Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car

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How to Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car

Be on the lookout for vehicles caught in the flood waters of Hurricane Irene.

Whenever there is flooding, as there was recently after Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast, car buyers need to be aware that some dealers try to hide the fact that the vehicles they're selling have been damaged by water.

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It's not illegal to sell flood-damaged vehicles, but dealers must tell buyers that the car has been damaged, says Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president of the Insurance Information Institute (III). Water damage can lead to problems with a vehicle's computer and electrical systems and cause anti-lock brake and airbag systems to malfunction, according to CARFAX, which provides vehicle history reports.

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III and suggest that consumers be on the lookout for these signs that a car may have been flooded:


-Mildew, debris and silt in places where it wouldn't normally be found, such as under the carpeting in the trunk, or around the engine compartment

-Rust on screws and other metal parts

-Water stains or faded upholstery, discoloration of seatbelts and door panels; upholstery that doesn't match may be a sign that it was replaced

-Dampness in the floor and carpeting; moisture on the inside of the instrument panel


-A moldy odor or an intense smell of Lysol or deodorizer, which dealers use to cover an odor problem

-Warning lights and gauges that don't work properly, as well as exterior lights that don't come on

-Wires that crack when you flex them because they were wet and became brittle upon drying

When buying a car, have a mechanic look for flood damage and check the car's VIN. You can buy a CARFAX report at Carfax.comfor $34.99. Also, the National Insurance Crime Bureau has worked with insurance companies and law-enforcement groups to catalog water-damaged vehicles. You can search its VINCheck database for free. If you suspect that a dealer is selling flood-damaged cars, contact the NICB at 800-835-6422.

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