Police warn against buying used cars after Harvey's floods

Police warn against buying used cars after Harvey's floods

There may not be a more risky time to buy a used car, Beaumont police warned on the department's Facebook page Sept. 25.

Hundreds or even thousands of flood-damaged vehicles could end up on the market in the wake of the catastrophic storms lately. There is always a risk that you could be purchasing a previously flooded vehicle.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, "as many as 1 million water-damaged cars and trucks were left behind by Hurricane Harvey, which came ashore south of Houston on August 25. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Irma crashed into the Florida Keys and, over the next several days, cut a path up the coast that caused record flooding as far north as South Carolina."

About half the cars and trucks damaged by floods are cleaned up and resold, according to used-car research firm Carfax. Water can damage a car’s computer and electrical system, and interfere with safety features such as the brakes and air bags.

Most flood-damaged cars are covered by insurance. Some that are considered "totaled" are dismantled, while others are repaired and salvage titles are issued, allowing them to be sold with full disclosure of the damage. Many states require the titles of flood-damaged cars to be "branded," which provides potential buyers with information about previous damage.

But hiding flood damage isn't that difficult. In the Beaumont and surrounding areas, we have several used unscrupulous dealers and individuals that will deceive potential buyers through “title washing” -- registering the vehicles in states where the title brands did not transfer.

The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) offers these tips to spot flood-damaged vehicles:

1. Check a vehicle's title history using the National Insurance Crime Bureau's VinCheck, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or a vehicle-history reporting service, such as Experian or Carfax, etc.

2. Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion.

3. Check for recently shampooed carpeting.

4. Look under the carpeting for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water not related to air-conditioning pan leaks.

5. Inspect for interior rust and under the carpeting, and inspect upholstery and door panels for evidence of fading.

6. Check under the dash for dried mud and residue, and note any mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk.

7. Check for rust on screws in the console and in other areas water would normally not reach unless the vehicle was submerged.

8. Look for mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.

9. Inspect electrical wiring for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.

10. Inspect other components for rust or flaking metal not normally found in late model vehicles.

- Beaumont Police