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Experts: Don't accidentally buy a flooded car after Hurricane Matthew

Posted October 31, 2016
Updated November 1, 2016

— After severe weather hits, many cars that were once underwater can be cleaned and resold to unsuspecting buyers in no time. Here's how to make sure you don't get scammed.

The record-setting flooding that devastated multiple counties in North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew has brought the flooded car scam to the surface once again.

It's hard to believe, cars that were once submerged in water can be detailed weeks later to disguise their damages. Experts are now warning buyers to stay away from these used cars, because they can rot from the inside out.

"Flooded cars are the one type of car that we recommend nobody buy, simply because it's unpredictable how the water's going to impact the vehicle," said Chris Basso.

Basso is a representative from Carfax, a web service that provides history reports on used vehicles, and he said an awful smell is the first sign that there's a problem with a used car.

"You can strip it down, you can take the seats out and you clean the carpets. That smell goes away for a little bit, and the car looks good, but the mold and bacteria is going to come back, and the mechanical systems are going to corrode. The electrical systems will short out."

According to Basso, there are several warning signs you should look for when buying a used car after flooding hits your area.

Experts say a car's paper trail may not always reflect its flood damage - that's why it's important to thoroughly inspect any used car you're considering.

"Look for water lines and other marks on the door frame, on the metal parts of the car and underneath the carpets," said Basso. "Get into the nooks and crannies. If you see dirt or debris or any sign that there was water in that vehicle, walk away."

Basso also suggests that buyers check under the hood and feel any wires in the car.

"Reach underneath the dashboard," he said. "If the coating on the wires got wet and then dried out, they'll start to get brittle and they'll crack."

Sometimes, sellers will attempt to overpower the smell of rotting water in a once-flooded car. "If there's an overpowering smell that indicates this car was recently cleaned with heavy deodorizers or perfumes, that's another red flag," said Basso.

Given the number of cars that flooded in Hurricane Matthew, the risk of buying one will be an issue for months and even years, experts say. Knowing the warning signs helps everyone. When the electrical and mechanical systems in these cars fail, they are not only a risk to the passengers of that car but also to everyone else on the road.


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