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TheStreet Open House

Claims About Flood-damaged Cars Aren't True

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Unlike the automakers who destroy badly damaged inventory, dealers, insurance companies and others often resell flooded cars to recoup their losses.

If the cars were declared total losses by insurance companies, states require them to get new titles branding them as flood-damaged vehicles. But some sellers don't disclose that, and some even move the cars from state to state to wash the branding off the titles.

So even if the numbers are far smaller than the estimates, anyone buying a used car in the coming months should check the title and repair history and have the car inspected by a mechanic. Buyers can also do their own inspection, sniffing for musty odors and checking for mud and debris under the dashboard.

"People just have to be a little smart about this," said Scafidi, of the insurance company group. But he added, "We don't want to sit here and say the sky is falling."

___

Seven tips for avoiding a flood-damaged car:

â¿¿ Run the car's vehicle identification number through Carfax at www.carfax.com, AutoCheck at www.autocheck.com, or VinCheck at www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck. The services can usually tell you if a car's been damaged or if it's been totaled by an insurance company.

â¿¿ Have the car inspected by a mechanic, who can put it on a lift and check the undercarriage for water damage or debris from flood waters.

â¿¿ Check the interior yourself for signs of water damage. Sniff for a musty smell. Look for signs of freshly shampooed carpet. Check under the floorboard carpet for water residue, rust, or water stain marks. Look under the dashboard for dried mud or other flood residue. Check for rust on screws in the console and other areas where water wouldn't normally be present.

â¿¿ Check the trunk for moldy smells, water stains, rust or debris.

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