Following Floods, Sketchy Car Dealers May Hide Water Damage, says AG Cooper

Following Floods, Sketchy Car Dealers May Hide Water Damage, says AG Cooper
Image: NCCC
June 3, 2015

In the market for a new or used car? Be wary of those coming from Texas and Oklahoma, which have seen substantial flooding recently.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is warning consumers that following storms and floods, unscrupulous sellers might try to sell flood-damaged cars without revealing the nature of the damage.

"Our hearts go out to flood victims as they work to clean up and rebuild," Cooper said in a statement. "Even though the floods didn't hit North Carolina, consumers here need to watch out for dishonest dealers who may try to trick them into buying flooded cars."

Prior to being sold, flooded vehicles are put through a cleaning process that can make it difficult to spot water damage, which can take weeks to appear.

Under North Carolina law, flood damage to a car must be disclosed in writing before the car is sold. A flood vehicle is one that has been submerged or partially submerged in water causing damage to the body, engine or transmission. Violators of the law can face civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, and failure to disclose damage to a vehicle is also a class 2 misdemeanor prosecutable by local district attorneys.

Here are seven ways you can decrease your chances of buying a flood-damaged car:

1. Ask to see the title of any used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the vehicle comes from a state that recently experienced flooding. Keep in mind that the title will only indicate flood damage if the insurance company officially totaled the car.

2. Also, consider checking a vehicle's history with a service such as CARFAX.

3. Ask the seller directly whether or not the car has been damaged in any way, including by water or storms.

4. Have the car examined by an independent mechanic of your choice before you buy it.

5. Check for signs of rust and mud in the trunk, glove box and beneath the seats and dashboard. Look for rusty brackets under the dash and carpet, discolored upholstery and carpet that fits poorly or doesn't match.

6. Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter and radio. Check the heater and air conditioner several times, and look in the vents for signs of water or mud. Make sure all gauges on the dashboard are accurate and in working condition.

7. Think carefully before agreeing to purchase any car over the Internet sight unseen, especially if it comes from an area that has suffered a flood or other disaster.