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Used Car Buyers Alert

by Marty Bernstein
Senior Editor-at-Large
The Auto Channel

The terrible weather of the past few weeks has resulted in overwhelming amounts of rain, overflowing streams, sewers and rivers, serious floods, high wind, tornados and combinations of all has resulted in significant damage and destroyed over several hundred thousand vehicles though many states in the country. (Insert picture of flooded vehicles)

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The hardest hit states according to Car Fax are Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois, New York, Florida, Mississippi and Virginia. But as this map indicates almost every state has had some rain soaking and flood damage. (insert map sent yesterday )

Unscrupulous sellers know how to hide major water damage with cosmetic touches of a new coat of paint and new upholstery but there may be major damage to the engine and other critical components of the vehicle.

So if you’re thinking about buying a used car over the next few weeks or months here are tips and what to watch for that will save money and prevent buying a damaged car or truck.

Step 1: Look, touch and smell!

Are there musty or unrecognized odors inside the car

Look for start of mildew and mold in trunk

Check under floorboards/carpet for dampness and odor

Ditto for glovebox

Is an overly strong air freshener evident

A lingering odor from disinfectant is smelled

Feel the carpets in front and rear to feel dampness

Look for brittle wires under the dashboard and in engine compartment

Water droplets or condensation in headlights mean high water

Look for moisture in lights inside the vehicle

Beginnings of rust in door sills and wheel wells

Dirt, dead grass, mud or grime in odd places like the spare-tire well is not good

Screws, bolts and fasteners that look new are not good

Step 2: Test, check and verify

Determine if all lights in and out of vehicle work

Turn on engine to see if all instrument panel lights

Have a trusted mechanic check-out the car

Be suspicious of a vehicle priced under going market price

Verify the vehicles history with a check of the VIN

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Water can cause irreparable damage to the vehicles mechanical, electrical and computer components in addition to the appearance and comfort of the vehicle. While many flood damaged vehicles are processed by respected companies and sold for salvage (YouTube Copart flood damage video) to others who break them up for parts there are private individuals who are not above selling a damaged vehicle. Over half of all vehicles damaged in floods, according a recent report in the New York Times, may still on road. Additionally dishonest sellers, businesses and private parties may update and sell damaged vehicles in other states with illegal titles,

If the near new or used vehicle seems too good and the price is well below market, it probably is too good to be true. Be suspicious, very suspicious!

Protect Yourself!

Many dealers offer a free CarFax report during the selling process

Order a report from CarFax can for less than $50

The Justice Department’s National Motor Vehicle Title Information System offers vehicle checks from various vendors

Go to VINCheck a free public service from the National Insurance Crime Bureau to learn if the vehicle was previously declared as salvage