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Here’s fair warning when buying a new or used car after a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy — hundreds of thousands of cars have been recently submerged or flooded and effectively totaled, yet many of these will end up for sale in car lots and on online marketplaces disguised as undamaged new or used vehicles. And not only should those living in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and surrounding areas worry, these cars are easy to ship and will likely end up for sale all over the country.
Being submerged in water can cause a number of problems for a car, affecting brakes, clutch, accelerator, electrical system, transmission, drivetrain and the engine as well as fuel and power steering systems. Unless dirt and other contaminants are completely removed from all of these vital components (which is not an easy, let alone cheap task), the car will suffer from increased wear and premature failure.
AAA offers the following tips on how to recognize a flood-damaged car.
Use your senses.

  • Look for signs of water damage, including water lines on headlights and elsewhere.
  • Do a thorough inspection by checking for mud, mildew or other residue under carpets, on the trunk floor and other enclosed areas like door panels and the gas tank, paying close attention to tiny hard-to-clean crevices.
  • Any unusual smells, such as dampness or mold, are red flags.
  • Turn on the engine to make sure it sounds as it should.
  • During a test drive, make sure the car “feels” right.

Check under the dash.
Underneath the dashboard is a particularly hard area to clean. A dishonest seller looking to quickly flip the car will likely clean the rest of the car, but skip this part.

Get the car’s vehicle history report.
Obtaining the car’s history via CARFAX will reveal if it’s been in a major accident, such as a flood or fire. You can also check the VIN in the National Insurance Crime Bureau database of vehicles involved in recent hurricanes. This service is free-of-charge, but keep in mind it doesn’t cover all flood-damaged vehicles.
Have it inspected.
Any car should be inspected by a quality repair facility before it’s purchased. There are plenty of mechanics out there who are trained in handling flood-damaged vehicles, so don’t hesitate to ask for a flood inspection.
Use PaySAFE to avoid fraud.
Using PaySAFE to complete a transaction is also a great way to avoid fraud. Acting as a neutral third party escrow service, PaySAFE offers the buyer (and seller) safe, secure and easy-to-use tools to close the deal. The buyer and the seller exchange no money until all the terms of the transaction are approved.
Prevent fraud when buying a car online
Natural disasters attract scammers and frauds
If you’re interested in buying a car with PaySAFE, check out how it works on our website.
Photo: Flickr

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