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Spotting a car with flood damage

The used car market is inundated by flood cars damaged by major storms and hurricanes. While Southern California has not been hit by hurricanes like our friends on the Southeast and Gulf Coast, there is still reason to be vigilant. The fact is that 50 percent of cars damaged in floods and/or heavy precipitation end up back on the road, and not necessarily in the same state where the initial damage occurred.

Scenarios that should cause red flags

Car buyers may end up paying the going rate for a “flood car” that is literally rotting on the inside because of water damage. There are certain scenarios where buyers should be careful:

  • Auctions: These can be a good place to get a deal, but insurance companies often put a flood or salvage title on cars they paid claims. These are then sold to and rehabbed by buyers who sell them to consumers who are none the wiser.
  • Forged documentation: Unscrupulous dealers may tamper with the title records or other documentation to fool buyers into paying top dollar for a damaged ride.
  • For sale by owner: Short of forging the documents, less-than-honest sellers may make the car “look like new,” putting in new upholstery and carpet while omitting the details of the water damage. They may even take the car to a different state to avoid scrutiny of a buyer who expects to come across storm-damaged cars.

Precautions smart buyers can take

Here is a quick checklist from USA Today to go through when looking at buying a car:

  • Check the vehicle history report by services like Carfax or Autocheck
  • Ask a mechanic to look over the car
  • Pull back the carpet and check for signs of water damage or mud
  • Use your nose to detect a musty or odd smell
  • Look for corrosion on the underside and anywhere else on the vehicle
  • Check the electrical systems, including windows, signals, dashboard lights, headlights and taillights
  • Do not take the seller’s word for it

California used car Lemon Law

If you buy a vehicle still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, then you may be protected by state and federal Lemon Laws. It includes demonstration models as well as those sold with extended warranties. Consumer Fraud Protection could come into play with storm damaged cars as well. If you feel that you bought a car that has hidden damage, it is wise to contact an attorney who understands the Lemon Laws and consumer fraud. They can protect your rights to ensure that you are not taken advantage of.

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