Beware of Flood Cars

Clark Howard

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I gave warnings about flood cars entering the used car market. At that time, hundreds of thousands of vehicles were rebuilt and had their titles “washed.” But this is really a recurring problem that happens anytime we have a major hurricane season or flooding.
Now we’ve had terrible flooding in Dallas, Colorado, and other parts of the country. If you’ve seen any of the video of the tragic loss of life and families torn apart, you know what I’m talking about.

Watch out for flood cars
Following any round of extreme flooding, you always have the dishonest people who take flooded vehicles into certain states where they can easily “wash” the titles. That action removes any evidence that the vehicle was ever in a flood. Cars with washed titles can then be sold to any dealership across the country that either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that they’re buying a flood vehicle.
These cars often end up in the hands of “curb stoners,” which are illegal dealers who run ads in the paper. They pretend they’re selling their sister’s car or their mother’s car and they hope you don’t know what they know. About 20 percent of these cars go to unsuspecting people overseas. The other 80 stay right here at home.
To the naked eye, there’s no telling that anything is amiss with these cars. But you’ll know you’ve got a flood car when you encounter failed electrical systems throughout the vehicle.
There’s only one way to protect yourself: You must have the vehicle inspected by a diagnostic mechanic before you buy.
How to find a good independent mechanic
All used cars are sold “as is,” whether by a private seller or a licensed dealer — unless they come with a written warranty. Worse yet, the seller is not required by law to be honest about the condition of the vehicle. Whatever representations they make about the car can be false.
On my radio show, I talk to so many people who are duped when buying a used car. We call them “razor blade calls” because they’re so painful to hear. There’s usually nothing I can do to help them.
Here’s my key rule of used car buying: Have the car inspected by a certified diagnostic mechanic of your choosing as a condition of purchase. You can leave a deposit if you wish, but specify in writing that the money must be returned to you if the car doesn’t check out. If a dealer refuses to let you do this, you know not to do business with them!


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