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Be aware of flood-damaged cars


DAYTON – The recent heavy rain and flooding in the Miami Valley and beyond caused damage to personal property, including cars and trucks. If you’re in the market for a vehicle, your Better Business Bureau says do your research before buying because flood-damaged vehicles may show up at auto auctions, used car dealerships and in classified ads.

According to Consumer Reports, about 2.5 million vehicles are totaled each year from accident and flood damage. Each year, there are over 400,000 vehicles that are totaled, sold for salvage and are now back on the road again. (A bad hurricane can put in an additional 250,000 vehicles.)

Insurance companies purchase flood-damaged vehicles from policyholders, declare them totaled and sell them at auctions to be resold for parts. Unfortunately, shady dealers buy flood-damaged cars at cheap prices, clean them up, re-title and sell them. While vehicles may look good, their electronics and safety systems may be damaged.

When looking for a used car, your BBB recommends these tips for avoiding flood-damaged cars:

Do research online about the vehicle’s history.

Review the car’s title. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if “salvage” or “flood” is stamped on the title. If the vehicle’s history seems suspicious, ask if it’s been damaged by floodwater.

Be sure to test drive the vehicle before purchasing.

Check dashboard gauges for signs of water and make sure they work.

Be sure the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner work.

Bend wires under the dash to see if they crack. Wet wires get brittle when they dry.

Inspect the trunk, glove compartment and underneath 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 stained upholstery and carpeting. Replaced carpeting may fit loosely or not match the car’s interior.

Check for a watermark line and musty odors resulting from mildew.

Get a mechanic to thoroughly inspect the engine, brakes, etc. Keep in mind there may be a charge for the inspection.

Remember, be sure to get a copy of the vehicle’s history, like a CARFAX Vehicle History Report. These reports can reveal problems from a vehicle’s past, including accidents or flood damage. If the seller doesn’t offer a report, use the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the dashboard to check the car’s history at www.carfax.com.