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Consumer Tips: Don’t Fall for a Flood-damaged Car

Hurricanes destroyed more than 500,000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2017. Even partially submerged cars can be unsafe to drive, and costly, if not impossible, to repair.

Flood-damaged vehicles are typically given a salvage or flood title (depending on the state) and recycled for parts or crushed for scrap, but some end up on the used car market – and could end up in your driveway.

It’s important to be aware of a practice known as title washing, in which a car receives a new title that essentially erases its damage history. Sellers can make a flood-damaged car look nice, but hidden problems can eventually catch up to the buyer.

Follow these steps to avoid a flood-damaged car:

  • Choose a reputable car dealer.
  • Smell for mold or mildew.
  • Check upholstery and door panels for water stains, mud or new or mismatched fabric/carpeting.
  • Search the trunk and under carpets for dirt, sand and mildew.
  • Scrutinize the seatbelts for mildew, water spots and dirt.
  • Test electrical components, including window and seat controllers, turn signals, radio and A/C.
  • Look for rust inside the hood and around doors, hinges and screws.
  • Check for fog or moisture inside headlights, taillights and turn-signal lights.
  • Get a free report on the vehicle. Visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau website for a free VINCheck. Just type in the Vehicle Identification Number to find out whether the car you’re interested in buying was ever reported as a salvage or flood vehicle by insurance companies that belong to the NICB. Be aware that VIN fraud, where VIN numbers are switched or altered, can occur.
  • Purchase a CARFAX report for even more detailed information about the car, including major accidents, number of previous owners, mileage rollbacks and manufacturer recalls.
  • Have a mechanic do a thorough inspection.

Call your AAA insurance agent or insurance customer service, or visit your local branch for more information about auto and home insurance.