Turn to Tara: How to avoid buying hurricane-damaged cars

News 12's Tara Rosenblum has the ways drivers can stay vigilant.

Tara Rosenblum

Dec 1, 2022, 11:19 AM

Updated 509 days ago

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Are you in the market for a used car? Some of the vehicles damaged by recent hurricanes could soon find their way to a lot near you - masked as perfectly normal cars.
News 12's Tara Rosenblum has the ways drivers can stay vigilant.
Hurricane Ian was not only the deadliest storm to strike the United States since Katrina, it was also one of the costliest.
The large and destructive storm left a billion dollars in property damage along the East Coast. It also flooded as many as 350,000 vehicles - vehicles that could find their way to car dealerships across the tri-state this winter, in an already tight market.
"They'll ship it off to a state that's unaffected by the flood, and then sell it to an unsuspecting buyer," says Brian Rauer from the Better Business Bureau.
The fraudulent process, referred to as "tidal washing," typically involves scammers buying cars on the cheap at auctions, but then making only cosmetic repairs to mask their flood damage.
How can you avoid buying a used car with hidden flood damage?
"You can order the title. You can see where the date of transfer from which state, check if it was from a flood damaged state. Was it stamped salvage - in which case you should run away from the deal that is a huge red flag right there," Rauer says.
Before signing the dotted line, you can also order the vehicle's history from a database service like the National Insurance Crime Bureau or CARFAX's flood check. Both services are free and could detect flooding.
"The problem is that if you've been sold the flood damaged vehicle, and you're not aware of it, often things like rust and damage to equipment is going to show up several years later," Rauer says.
Rauer tells the Turn to Tara team his best advice is to use your eyes and nose.
Inspect the vehicle for yourself, and look out for things like water stains, mildew, rust or musty odors - under the carpets, in the trunk and even the engine compartment.
Carefully check the dashboard, make sure all the gauges are accurate that they're working with no sign of flood damage.
Check all the electronic components, check the turn signals, the air conditioning, the radio - make sure that they're all operational.
According to CARFAX, New Jersey is the state with the fifth highest number of flood damaged cars in the country - just under 19,000.


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