Although reports of hundreds of thousands of flood-damaged cars inundating the used-car market appear to be overblown, water-marred vehicles still can be a big problem for buyers.
Flooded cars that are declared total losses by insurance companies must have new titles branding them as damaged. But unscrupulous sellers might not tell buyers, and some can even get cars re-titled in other states to wash the title of any warnings. Here are ways to avoid buying a damaged car or truck:
-- Check the records. 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.
-- Take the car to a mechanic. The mechanic can check the undercarriage for water damage, rust or debris from flood waters.
-- Inspect it yourself. Check for a musty smells. Look for signs of freshly shampooed carpet. Peek under the floorboard carpet for water residue, rust, or water marks. Look under the dashboard for dried mud. Check for rust on screws in the console and other areas where water wouldn't normally be present.
-- Check the trunk for moldy smells, water stains, rust or debris.
-- Look under the hood for mud or grit in the alternator, behind wires and around small openings.
-- Follow wires to check for signs of rust, water residue or corrosion.
-- Check the undercarriage for evidence of rust or flaking metal that wouldn't normally be on newer vehicles.
Source: National Automobile Dealers Association