Examine Used Cars for Flood Damage

Two cars are perched atop a New Orleans home surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina.
Two cars are perched atop a New Orleans home surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina. (By David J. Phillip -- Associated Press)
By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, September 22, 2005

When the floodwaters finally recede on the Gulf Coast, no doubt there will be thousands of water-damaged cars that will flood the used-car market.

If you don't want to end up unknowingly buying one of these vehicles, you had better do some homework, advises Jeff Fortson, an Atlanta-based auto consultant and the editor of Jeffcars.com, a car-buying educational Web site targeted to women and minorities.

Fortson said many of the victims of Hurricane Katrina may become victimized a second time as they search for reasonably priced used cars to replace the ones they lost or as they buy cars to get around the unfamiliar cities where they have been relocated.

"Many of the people displaced did not own a vehicle," Fortson said. "Now, many of these individuals are in locations that will require them to have transportation."

Unfortunately, these inexperienced and low-income car shoppers are ripe for conning by unscrupulous sellers.

It is common for flood-damaged vehicles to end up in the used-car market, according to Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research Inc.

On average, about 1 million flood-damaged vehicles are sold each year. But these cars and trucks should not be sold for transportation, Spinella said.

"Flood vehicles can be sold for their parts," Spinella said. "There isn't a single vehicle that came out of Katrina that should be sold. They should all be scrapped."

There isn't anything illegal about selling a car that has been damaged by a flood, but that fact should be disclosed to a buyer, said Chris Basso, media-relations manager for CarFax, which sells vehicle-history reports.

Basso said an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 cars may have been damaged during Katrina.

"From previous storms, our experience has been close to half of flood-damaged vehicles will return to the road, and some of those cars are cleaned up by unscrupulous sellers and sold to unknowing consumers, which is a shame," Basso said. "They're buying cars that they think are fine but are rotting from the inside out."

One way to determine whether a car, truck or SUV was damaged by a flood is to check its title history. This history report is available from many dealers for free, or you can buy the reports from Carfax.com or AutoCheck.com for about $20.

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