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Hurricanes have wreaked havoc on the United States over the past few weeks, tragically resulting in lost lives and homes. Many residents also saw their cars destroyed from rising flood waters.

Industry experts are estimating around 500,000 to 1 million vehicles were damaged by Hurricane Harvey’s flooding. That number will only increase following Hurricane Irma. While many of these cars are damaged beyond repair, some flood damaged cars end up back on the market.

Flood damage can be easy to hide, cosmetically. The real problem lies in the mechanics of the vehicle. Water can get into the electrical components, wiring, computer chips, etc, which could lead to corrosion and faulty or broken sensors. Damages to these components can impact the lights, air bags, or brake pedal sensors.

Check the vehicle’s history.

Cars that are deemed total losses by an insurance company, or cars belonging to consumers who don’t have comprehensive coverage, which typically covers flood damage, often get turned over to auction or scrap yards.

It’s critical to check the title history of any pre-owned vehicle you’re considering by running its VIN (vehicle identification number) through services like CarFax, Experian’s Auto Check or the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VinCheck to see if it’s been reported as having been flooded or salvaged. If the car was ruled a total loss by an insurance company, it should have a salvage title.

But consumers should be careful. Consumer Reports warns that while vehicles with salvage titles cannot be registered until necessary repairs are made and the vehicle is re-inspected by officials, sometimes cars with “rebuilt” titles appear instead with a clean title or a lost title.

Have the vehicle inspected.

If you can, have a qualified mechanic inspect the vehicle before signing anything. You can also look for signs of damage yourself. Take the car for a test drive and look for signs of rust or brittle wiring.

Use your senses.

If you detect a damp, mildew scent, be suspicious. Check for indications that cleaning agents or car fresheners are being used to mask the smell.

Look for water damage stains on the interior fabrics of the car, including its rugs, upholstery, and seat belts. Check in the hard to reach areas for left over silt or mud.

 

Buy from a reputable dealer

While it may not always be the most cost-effective, consumers should consider purchasing a vehicle from a licensed dealer rather than a private seller or from someone on Craigslist. Massachusetts requires dealers to disclose any details about the vehicle that may affect your decision to buy it. If the dealer doesn’t know the vehicle sustained water damage and your purchase is still within the warranty period, you may have options under the Lemon Law.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

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