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Following other storms and floods, dealers and individuals tried to sell flood-damaged cars without revealing their true history. 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.
“Thousands of cars have been flooded in Texas and Oklahoma, and it won’t be long before they pop up for sale across the country,” said Cooper. “Be on guard so you don’t get stuck with a flooded car.”
To decrease the chances of buying a flood-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. 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 CARFAX.
- Ask the seller directly whether or not the car has been damaged in any way, including by water or storms.
- Have the car examined by an independent mechanic of your choice before you buy it.
- 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 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 it comes from an area that has suffered a flood or other disaster.