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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > June 2011 > Car buyers: Beware of flood-damaged cars

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Car buyers: Beware of flood-damaged cars


This spring, floods devastated many regions throughout the United States.

In addition to the immediate environmental impacts, flooding also can cause serious damage to vehicles, and some damaged vehicles eventually get sold to unsuspecting buyers.

Even if you don’t live in a flood-ravaged area, flood-damaged cars can make their way to your region.

After flooded cars are “totaled” by an insurance company, auto-salvage auctions may sell the cars to dealers hundreds of miles away. In some cases, dealers may not know a used car had been damaged in a flood.

A vehicle that has been totaled is a “salvage” vehicle. Its title should be branded “salvage.” In Ohio, salvage vehicles cannot be resold to consumers (though they could be sold to a junkyard or for parts).

Nevertheless, a salvage vehicle can be rebuilt and later sold, if it passes the inspection of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

If a dealer knows that a vehicle previously was titled as a salvage vehicle (and is now a rebuilt salvage vehicle), then the dealer must disclose that information to the consumer. If the dealer does not know that the vehicle previously was titled as a salvage vehicle, then the dealer is not responsible for notifying the consumer.

Because dealers do not always know the history of the vehicles they sell, be sure to get a car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy it.

Even if the dealer says that the car has been through a “50-point inspection” or “200-point inspection,” do plenty of extra research. 

Order a vehicle history report from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and check other Internet-based vehicle history services. Have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic.

Also check the vehicle yourself for signs of water damage, such as:

  • Stains
  • Musty odors
  • Mud or rust in places such as the trunk, glove compartment, or dashboard
  • Electrical problems, such as an ignition that won’t start, or lights that don’t work
  • Brittle wires
For additional information, contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.


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