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Another Storm, Another Wave Of Flood Cars And Warnings

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RALEIGH — Tens of thousands of cars were flooded by Hurricane Floyd. Where are they now? Maybe on a used car lot near you, or even worse, one may even be in your driveway.

More than 30,000 cars were flooded as a result of Hurricane Floyd. Just two weeks ago, thousands of cars from Texas to Louisiana to Pennsylvania were left waterlogged by Tropical Storm Allison.

When you put that together with what a 5 On Your Side investigation reveals, it is clear that used car buyers need to beware.

Many cars flooded in past storms have been cleaned up and resold to unsuspecting buyers.

Lauralee George bought one. "I had no idea it was a flood car. None whatsoever," she says.

George's car had been so flooded that dried mud literally flew out of the air vents.

Jamie Cuddington got stuck with one, and so did Dave Floor.

"I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it," he says. Floor was especially surprised, because he says he had seen the warnings and knew what to look for.

"I did everything right, I thought. There were no signs of anything that would determine this car was flooded," says Floor.

5 On Your Side tracked down video of Floor's 1999 Nissan Maxima right after Hurricane Floyd and showed it to him.

It turns out, even though the Maxima was branded "flood" in North Carolina, that branding did not stick.

A records check shows an insurance company sold the flooded car to a Virginia dealership for $5,700. The car was cleaned up, as well as its title.

The Maxima changed hands again before Floor bought it in October of 2000 for $15,500 -- almost three times what it sold for 10 months earlier.

That was especially surprising to Floor since he tried to protect himself by using the car's

vehicle identification number

, or VIN, to check the title. But he only checked it in Virginia.

"I figured, well, if it's a flood vehicle, that VIN would follow it and the branding would follow it," says Floor.

The branding did not follow the vehicle because of an unscrupulous re-titling process dishonest dealers use. In fact, a two-year investigation by 5 On Your Side shows it is happening to car-buying consumers all over the country.

Right after Hurricane Floyd, 5 On Your Side gathered vehicle identification numbers from dozens of flooded cars. Then, just like you can do before you buy a car, WRAL used the VINs and a nationwide title search company to track the cars' travels.

The results were eye-opening:

  • Some cars went to Georgia, others went to Illinois. One car picked up a clean title in Massachusetts, while others went to Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas and Utah.
  • The paperwork for another submerged car re-emerged in Maryland, picked up a clean title, then moved to New York. The current owner says he bought it in Miami.
  • Hundreds of flood cars went to Florida, where some were actually sold to dealers from foreign countries, including Guatemala.
  • As for Floor, he is starting to notice some of the telltale signs of a flood car. "The switch for the heat and air, and the radio had a problem," he says.

    All car buyers should look for electrical problems, as well as sand and sediment in the vents, speakers, trunk and lights.

    Floor now wishes he had taken the car to a mechanic before he bought it. "It's what, $75 or $100? It's well worth it," he says.

    Floor now has little recourse. The people he bought the car from appear to have left the country.

    Lauralee George and Jamie Cuddington were more fortunate; they both got their money back.

    Thousands of cars flooded in Hurricane Floyd are still in North Carolina, and thanks to Tropical Storm Allison, more could be on the way. Flood car victims hope all of us realize how easily we could get soaked.

    After 5 On Your Side contacted New York's Division of Motor Vehicle about the title issues there, officers obtained North Carolina's database of nearly 10,000 flood car VINs and flagged each one in New York's system as well. That way anyone who does a title search can find out the vehicle's history.

    Officers say so far, 260 North Carolina flood cars have been retitled in New York.


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