Consumer warning: Beware flooded cars for sale after Sandy - | WBTV Charlotte

Consumer warning: Beware flooded cars for sale after Sandy


In the wake of flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy, Attorney General Roy Cooper Thursday warned consumers in the market for a new or used car to watch out for flood-damaged vehicles. 

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of Sandy, as they face the difficult task of cleaning up," said Cooper.  "We don't want to see even more people hurt by dishonest dealers who may try to sell flood damaged cars to unsuspecting consumers."

Following previous hurricanes and floods, some unscrupulous businesses and individuals have tried to sell flood-damaged cars without revealing the vehicle's true history.  Prior to being sold, flooded vehicles are put through a cleaning process that can make it difficult to tell that the car has been damaged.  Water damage may not be immediately apparent and can takes weeks to appear.

"Thousands of cars have been flooded all along the east coast, and it won't be long before these vehicles pop up for sale, including in North Carolina," said Cooper.  "Be on guard so you don't get stuck with a damaged car."

Under North Carolina law, if a car has been damaged during a flood, that must be disclosed in writing before the car is sold.  The law defines a flood damaged vehicle as 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 under state law.

Consumers should also be on the lookout for cars that may have been hit by falling trees or other debris and then poorly repaired, Cooper warned.

To decrease your chances of buying a storm-damaged car:

  • 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, such as New York or New Jersey.  Keep in mind that the title will only indicate flood damage if the insurance company officially totaled the car.  Also, consider checking a vehicle's history with a service such as   
  • Ask the seller directly whether or not the car has been damaged in any way, including by water or other storm damage.
  • 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.  
  • Test everything: 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.
  • Think carefully before agreeing to purchase any car over the Internet sight unseen, especially if the vehicle comes from an area that has suffered a flood or other disaster.
  • Have the car examined by an independent mechanic before you buy it.

Consumers who believe that they may have unwittingly purchased a flood-damaged vehicle can report it to the Attorney General's Office by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free within North Carolina.


The following is a consumer warning release from Carfax:


While our focus is on supporting our many customers, partners and friends affected by Hurricane Sandy, Carfax is warning used car buyers and sellers about flooded cars from the entire East Coast being cleaned up and resold. Several of the nation's most heavily-populated areas – including New York City – were impacted by the historic storm. To help, Carfax is making the flood damage information in its database available free-of-charge at

Over the coming months, Carfax will be working with law enforcement, state agencies and private companies to make sure all of these damaged vehicles are properly branded. Numerous sources report flood and damage information to Carfax, including all 50 states Department of Motor Vehicles and the District of Columbia.

A few tips to avoid flooded cars:
 - Check for signs of water damage on the inside of the car, such as water lines in the trunk or engine compartment, rusted bolts underneath seats, condensation on the instrument panel or brittle wires under the dash.
 - Ask the seller for a Carfax Vehicle History Report or purchase one at Carfax backs the flood damage and other DMV-reported title brand information with its industry-leading Carfax Buyback Guarantee.

- Have a trusted mechanic do a pre-purchase inspection and look for signs of water damage.

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