Buyer beware: Thousands of flood-damaged vehicles could return to market

Thousands of cars damaged in floodwater could return to the market — some will be repaired and resold in other parts of the country without the buyer knowing about the car’s history. Experts are warning people to beware of sellers withholding damage information.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thousands of cars damaged in floodwater could return to the market — some will be repaired and resold in other parts of the country without the buyer knowing about the car’s history.

Experts are warning people to beware of sellers withholding damage information.

If a car has water damage, that information is supposed to be disclosed — but that’s not always the case. It is legal for cars with water damage to be sold in Florida as long as the seller shares that information with the buyer.

Aaron Nelson, a local auto shop owner, shared a few things buyers can do right away to possibly determine if a car has flood damage. First, start with using your nose. Smell the inside and around the car. Check to see if you smell any mildew or interesting odors.

Nelson said it’s important to check a few things out yourself to make sure you don’t end up in a tough situation. He suggested checking under the floor mats, door panels, and touch the seats for any signs of water being there in the past.

“When the water comes in, it will lay in there because it is pretty watertight, it can come in and it will sit in there,” Nelson said. “You have computers, you have modules, you have all types of switches.”

Reviewing any of the car’s paperwork is also crucial — like the title. If a car experienced at least 75 percent water damage, it should say “rebuilt” on it, or some sort of indication of that.

We asked Nelson: On a title where would you see some of that different terminology?

“Usually it is close to where the odometer reading is on the title,” Nelson said.

According to Carfax, roughly 378,000 flooded cars were back on the roads across America last year as the demand for used cars was high.

In Nelson’s 40 years in this business, there was one experience that sticks out to him. A couple bought a car that was totaled by water and had no idea. An oil leak was the first clue. Then Nelson investigated himself.

“The VIN number was flagged. All of the warranties were void because the car had been water damaged. It was totaled. They could not believe it. The lady went back and sure enough, she made the dealer give her her money back because it was all documented. Someone who goes out and spends all of their hard-earned money and maybe all of the money they have, they buy one of these things and the next thing you know, they’re up the creek.”

Another thing car buyers can do is check the National Insurance Crime Bureau to survey the car’s VIN number. That resource is used to crack down on possible “title washing.”

Buyers can also take the car to be inspected by a reputable mechanic before finalizing the purchase.


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