How to avoid buying flood-damaged vehicles

Each year, thousands of cars are damaged by hurricanes and floods across the U.S. While many of these vehicles are totaled and destroyed after their owners receive their insurance settlement, a significant portion are resold at used car lots and auto auctions in Pennsylvania and across the country. Worse, some sellers attempt to hide a vehicle's flood history from potential buyers.

According to consumer advocates, there are a number of ways car buyers can protect themselves from such scams. First, buyers should always purchase a car's vehicle history report and title to make sure it hasn't been flagged as "flood damaged." Next, they should carefully inspect the car's interior and trunk to see if there are any signs of water damage, such as rust, mud, mold, mildew and water stains. They should also check the gauges for any signs of water damage and test all electronics to ensure they're working.

Experts say that car buyers should also research a vehicle's seller by checking out their Better Business Bureau profile and have the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic. If the car is purchased from a private seller, buyers should ask for maintenance records and confirm that the repairs were made at the repair shops listed. Buyers can also access flood damage information on a vehicle by using the National Insurance Crime Bureau's free database.

Individuals who have been scammed into buying a flood-damaged vehicle should report the incident to the police. In addition, they may want to consider contacting a consumer protection attorney for advice. After reviewing the details of the case, the attorney might recommend taking legal action against the seller under local lemon laws. This might result in a refund or a settlement payment.

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