How to avoid buying a flood-damaged vehicle

FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2017, file photo, cars are flooded near the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise in Houston. Tens of thousands of personal vehicles were inundated by floodwaters or smashed by wind-tossed objects, creating a huge demand for rentals that has put the cars in painfully short supply in the Houston area and across eastern Texas. Rental companies say they are bringing in more vehicles from areas including the Southeast, but the logistics problems left by Harvey could get worse as Hurricane Irma threatens Florida. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With all the flooding that’s been happening around the county, authorities warn they’ll be a spate of flood damaged vehicles hitting the market being sold as undamaged used cars by unscrupulous scammers.

What can you do to avoid buying a flood-damaged vehicle?

There’s a lot you can do it turns out.

And if someone manages to sell you with without your knowledge – the state can help.

A buyer must do some detective work figure out if the vehicle they want to buy is a flood car.

They talk about new car smell.

Some flooded vehicles can smell like swamp.

“I would look under the hood,” said inspector J.D. Walters at the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles License and Theft Division. “Look for water-mark stains.”

He added, “As I pull out this seat belt, I see dirt and moisture from flooding. You can see dust in it. It’s wet.”


Electrical problems from floods can take time to develop while wiring can show corrosion.

“Electric seats, windows and the radio. When a car is involved in a flood, these stop working,” Walters said.

North Carolina brands a vehicle as flood damaged right on the title.

That lets the buyer know the vehicle has been sitting in a significant amount of water.

“The seller is required to give the buyer a damage disclosure,” Walters said. “One question is, ‘Was it involved in a flood?’ Of the seller does not disclose to a buyer, it’s a crime punishable by jail time.”

The most important thing is to have a mechanic check the car out before you buy it.

If you think you’ve been scammed, you can call the DMV license bureau and they’ll investigate your complaint.

Also, there are a couple of websites you can check which will show you if the title of the car has been scrubbed to avoid showing it’s flood damaged.

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