Hurricane season is over, but con-artists are taking America by storm with scams designed to offload flood-damaged cars.
In a Nov. 27 press release, the Washington Office of the Attorney General warned car-buyers that the used car market is, well, flooded, with vehicles that were damaged during hurricanes Harvey and Irma. According to the press release, the federal Department of Justice “… estimates as many as 1 million flood-damaged vehicles could be sold to unsuspecting buyers nationwide.”
That seductive “new car smell” can mask a host of problems. According to the release, “A flood-damaged car may look normal, but almost always will have serious problems including mildew and corroded wires, which can result in an electrical failure.”
The Attorney General’s Office offered tips for avoiding these hurricane-damaged hunks of junk. Prospective car-buyers should always research a car’s title and VIN number at www.vehiclehistory.govand/or www.carfax.com/flood. Additionally, they should inspect the vehicle using these guidelines:
• Test drive first: Be sure to drive the vehicle as you would under everyday driving conditions.
• Check the gages: Try all of the electrical and comfort amenities like the windows, lights and turn signals, defroster, heater and air conditioner. Blow the horn, and check the brakes by coming to a controlled emergency stop. It’s also a good idea to listen to the engine accelerate when pulling onto the freeway and driving up hills.
• Do a visual inspection: Look under the vehicle for any signs of frame damage or collision repairs, any flood damage and any missing, loose or ill-fitting body parts. Check the engine compartment and trunk for fresh paint that might reveal prior damage or signs of flood damage.
• Check it out with your mechanic: If the vehicle passes your test, take it for an inspection by a qualified mechanic. The mechanic should check the brakes, electrical system, compression, transmission, and anything that caught your attention during the test drive. Consider getting an emissions control system inspection and test. When an inspection reveals only minor defects, you can use that information to negotiate either a lower purchase price or get the dealer to agree, in writing, to fix the items before purchase.
If you purchased a car with flood damage, try to return it to the dealership and file a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office at www.atg.wa.gov.