Buyer beware: no truer words have ever been spoken when it comes to the practice of purchasing a car. With scams galore, it can be difficult to know for sure that car you’ve got your eye on is up to par. An unfortunately common scam involves selling cars with flood damage—without recognizing that damage. 

You may think that because you live in a state without normal flooding, you’re safe, but unfortunately that isn’t the case.  According to a recent article in the Family Car Guide, what often happens “is dealers and salvage operators buy up flood-damaged cars on the cheap, clean them up and then send them to various parts of the country to be re-sold – without telling buyers about the cars’ flood history. This practice, sending the vehicle to multiple states to attempt to destroy any record of its damage, is called ‘title washing’ and is more common than you may think.”

Today, we’d like to share some tips to help you avoid falling victim to this scam. We’ve compiled these tips from our own experiences as well as from the experts at Edmunds and Family Car Guide.

Do a VINCheck through NICB. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), one of the best ways to guard against buying a flood-damaged vehicle is to learn everything you can about the particular car’s history, including whether it was declared salvage. To help consumers, the NICB created VINCheck, a free search of a car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) that can be accessed here.

Only purchase from a reputable dealer. As tempting as deals from a private seller may be, it’s always smarter to work with well-known, reputable dealers based in your area. They will have not only online reviews but also local customers that you can talk to before deciding to purchase from them.

Know the signs of flood damage.
Smell. Unusual odors, like must or mold, may signal mildew buildup from prolonged exposure to water. Strong air freshener scents may be an attempt to cover these smells.
Look. Is the upholstery discolored? Large stains or differences in color between lower and upper upholstery sections may indicate that standing water was in the vehicle. 
Inspect. Look for evidence of rust and flaking metal in the undercarriage that would not normally be associated with late-model vehicles.
Get Dirty. Check of dirt in unusual places, like seat tracks, carpeting or in/around the glove compartment. You may even have an independent mechanic check for compacted dirt or mud in crevices and power steering pumps.


With these handy tips, you will be alert and knowledgeable when purchasing your next vehicle. What tips would you add to this list? Tweet them to us! 

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