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Buying a used car? How to check for flood damage

Car buyers in the Pacific Northwest should be very cautious
about vehicles with out-of-state titles right now, warns the Oregon Department of Transportation
(ODOT)

Hurricane Sandy took a heavy toll on cars and trucks
throughout the Northeast. Now those
damaged vehicles are entering used-car markets around the U.S.

Although flood-damaged vehicles are usually considered a
total loss by insurance companies, they are frequently purchased at auction,
cleaned up and resold to unsuspecting buyers far away. Insurance companies are required to report the
VIN of any total loss vehicle, but it’s very possible that some of the
estimated 230,000 damaged vehicles would be put on the market before the title
is noted – or that the title or VIN has been altered.

Submersion in water does critical damage to the vehicle’s
electronic system, but it can be difficult to detect if the car or truck is
still working and has been thoroughly cleaned.

ODOT issued the following guidelines for car buyers:

  • Only
    shop for a used vehicle among licensed auto dealerships, which are very careful
    to avoid damaged cars.
  • Check the vehicle for signs of water or mineral deposits
    in the carpet and upholstery, and if possible, in the dashboard.
  • Ask the seller to see the title – and be ready
    to walk away from the deal if that is a problem.
  • Check vehicle history at vehiclehistory.gov.
  • Carefully inspect the vehicle’s fluids. If the
    color or composition of the engine oil, transmission fluid, coolant and power
    steering fluid doesn’t look or smell right, it could be a sign of water damage.

ODOT notes that car
buyers who find out later that the seller did not disclose flood damage
information about the vehicle have a hard time getting their money refunded,
and might need to hire a lawyer.

 

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