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Media > Newsletters > Consumer Advocate > March 2013 > Beware of Flood-Damaged Cars

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Beware of Flood-Damaged Cars

Be careful when purchasing used cars. Flood-damaged vehicles from areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy may be making their way to Ohio and other areas.

Flood-damaged cars can enter out-of-state markets when individuals sell cars online without disclosing flood damage or when dealers purchase cars at auction without realizing that they were damaged in a flood or “totaled” by an insurance company.
To help protect yourself, check vehicle history reports and have the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic. In January, CARFAX announced it would offer free flood-damage checks. To use this service, prospective buyers must enter the car’s vehicle identification number, or VIN, at You also can search the VIN with the National Insurance Crime Bureau,, to help determine if the car was stolen or declared a salvage vehicle. The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System,, is another source of vehicle history information.
History checks may not show the complete background of a vehicle, so be sure to have the vehicle physically inspected for flood damage.
Look for these common signs of water damage:
  • Stains — Look in the trunk and pull up carpet to see if there is mold, rust, or odor.
  • Odors — A musty smell is a strong indicator of water damage. Also, be aware of strong cleaning odors or air fresheners, as these scents can cover up musty odors.
  • Dirt — Inspect areas of the car that may be hard to clean, such as the trunk, glove compartment, or dashboard. If you find dirt or rust in these hard-to-reach spots, the car may have been flooded.
  • Brittle wires or electrical problems — Problems such as an ignition that does not start or lights that appear foggy or do not work may indicate water damage, especially in conjunction with brittle wires.
 For more information, or to file a complaint, visit or call 800-282-0515.