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CONSUMER ALERT: Flooded vehicles hitting the market

Nov 7, 2017

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If you or someone you know is in the market for a new car, it’s more important than ever to know how to identify cars that have been damaged by flooding. From Hurricane Harvey alone, an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 vehicles have been destroyed. While many of those damaged cars will be written off and sold for salvage, others may undergo “title washing,” a tactic in which a vehicle’s title is branded in one state but then transported to another state that has a different criteria for title branding. So, while a vehicle may have been branded as flood damaged in one state, it can be transported to another state to be sold with a clean title. Less than reputable sellers can use title washing to sell cars to unsuspecting buyers who will not notice a problem until it’s too late. Title washing also means that you are at risk for buying a flood car even if you do not live near a flood-prone area, or any of the areas affected by hurricanes this year.

To avoid buying a flood-damaged car, follow these tips:

  • Check the vehicle’s VIN using the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck service, which is free to use. This service compiles data from insurers and allows consumers to see whether a vehicle has ever been declared a total loss or salvaged
  • Buy a vehicle history report online. These comprehensive overviews will track important information, including title branding and registration over the vehicle’s life
  • Have a trusted and certified mechanic conduct a thorough inspection of the vehicle. Even if a vehicle has been refurbished, a mechanic should be able to identify signs of water damage
  • Check for water, debris, odd odors and electrical corrosion in the car yourself, paying specific attention to the interior, trunk, exterior, engine bay and underneath the car

*Tips courtesy of Kelley Blue Book