“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people suffering in Louisiana, and we hope the flood waters will soon start to recede,” said Cooper. “But even as storm victims begin to pick up the pieces, flooded cars will be on their way to North Carolina and other states to trick unsuspecting car buyers. Learn the warning signs to avoid flood cars.”
After major storms, both new and used cars that were flooded will be offered for sale. These vehicles are frequently put through extensive cleaning that can make it difficult for prospective buyers to detect even serious damage.
Under North Carolina law, flood damage to a car must be disclosed in writing before the car is sold. Vehicles that have been partially or totally submerged in water resulting in damage to the body, engine or transmission are classified as flood vehicles, but title paperwork is sometimes unlawfully altered to remove any mention of flood damage. Failure to disclose damage to a vehicle is a class 2 misdemeanor prosecutable by local District Attorneys, and violators of the law can face civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.
“This flooding has already caused terrible damage, and we don’t want to see anyone else suffer down the road,” Cooper warned. “If you’re shopping for a car, be on high alert for flood cars.”
To avoid buying a flood-damaged car, follow these steps:
- Ask the seller directly if the car has been damaged in any way, including by storms or flooding.
- Consider getting a complete vehicle history report using a service like CARFAX.
- Request a copy of the title for any used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the vehicle comes from a state that recently experienced flooding. Flood damage will only be disclosed on the title if the insurance company officially declared the car totaled.
- Have the car examined by an independent mechanic of your choice before you buy.
- Avoid buying a car over the internet if you haven’t seen it in person, especially if it is being sold in an area that recently experienced flooding.
- If possible, take the car for a test drive and remember to:
- Check for rust and mud in the trunk, glove box, and dashboard and beneath the seats.
- Look for rusty brackets under the dash and carpet, discolored upholstery, and mismatched carpet.
- Test electronics like headlights, windshield wipers, turn signals, power outlet, and radio.
- Run the heater and air conditioner, and look in the vents for signs of water or mud.
- Make sure all gauges on the dashboard are working accurately.
If you believe that you may have unknowingly purchased a flood-damaged vehicle, report it to the North Carolina Consumer Protection Division by phone, toll-free within North Carolina, at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. Consumers can also get tips on auto damage disclosure and file a consumer complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov.