PhotoAuthorities in several southern states are already warning consumers who plan to purchase used cars in the coming weeks to be vigilant for cars that have been underwater.

Even before the flood waters have receded in eight Louisiana parishes, there is concern that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of vehicles submerged in the widespread flooding will be obtained by unscrupulous operators and resold to unsuspecting consumers.

“This flooding has already caused terrible damage, and we don’t want to see anyone else suffer down the road,” said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. “If you’re shopping for a car, be on high alert for flood cars.”

After Superstorm Sandy, flooded cars from New York and New Jersey made their way onto some used car lots. It seems to happen after every major flood.

Title should list flood damage

The original owners of the cars are compensated if they are covered by insurance, and the cars are then sold for salvage. The law in nearly every state requires the title to clearly show that. But when titles are illegally altered and the car is cleaned and detailed, consumers might not realize they've been scammed for weeks or months.

But there are ways to tell if the car you're considering has spent any time under water. Cooper offers these tips:

  • First, ask if the car has been flooded. The dealer may lie, but it's worth asking
  • Get a vehicle history report on the car
  • Ask for a copy of the title. Check the date and place of transfer and see if the time and location coincides with a flooded area. Another step is to simply look at the rear of the vehicle, where dealers typically afix their decal. If the dealer is from southeast Louisiana, you may have a problem.
  • Have the car examined by an independent mechanic. A mechanic can easily spot a car that's been submerged.
  • Check for rust, which can quickly form once a car has been underwater.
  • Test all the electrical systems to make sure they work properly

If you think you have unknowingly purchased a flooded vehicle, file a complaint with your state attorney general's consumer protection division.

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