Latest Consumer Alert
September 21, 2021
Shopping for a new used car? Beware of flood-damaged vehicles
Follow these tips to avoid being scammed by the sale of a flood-damaged vehicle
Hurricane season is in full force, bringing wide-spread storms and flooding to many areas of the United States. Flood waters not only wreak havoc on homes and property in the path of these powerful storms, but they also damage vehicles.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller warns Iowans that these storm-damaged vehicles could be headed to Iowa, creating a dangerous situation both for consumers’ wallets and on our roads.
“Thousands of vehicles were severely damaged in recent hurricanes," Miller said. "The threat is that a vehicle may be repaired only cosmetically, moved to Iowa, and offered for sale without indication of the prior damage.”
The current high demand in the used car market compounds fears that flood-damaged vehicles will make their way to the state and Iowans will become victims of scammers.
“This demand could give fraudsters an opening to take advantage of Iowans eager to buy used vehicles, leaving them to pay more and risk costly repairs in the future,” Miller said. “Additionally, Iowans could be putting their safety at risk, as these vehicles could be subject to failure of brakes or air bags, computers or other systems.”
According to Consumer Reports, floodwaters can destroy electronics, lubricants, and mechanical systems in vehicles. Over time, the car’s vital electronics, including airbag controllers, can be destroyed by corrosion stemming from floods.
If shopping for a used vehicle, Miller suggests consumers should follow these tips to look for flood damage:
- Check inside the trunk, including around the spare tire, for evidence of moisture, silt, or corrosion.
- Check the engine for signs of moisture damage, such as rust or silt or grass.
- Give the vehicle a smell test — inside and out. -If it smells musty, it could have been flood-damaged. Additionally, the strong smell of cleaners or disinfectants could be a sign someone is trying to mask a mold or odor problem.
- Examine the underside of the vehicle for signs of excess moisture.
- Check inside dome lights, glove boxes, and other places where water might have been trapped for signs of moisture, mold, rust, or silt.
- Check the interior for signs of mismatched items such as carpeting or seat covers.
- Test all electrical components, including lights, signals, switches, and audio system. Look for fogging inside the headlights and taillights.
- Get a vehicle history report. Check a trusted database service.
- Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car's mechanical and electrical components and systems that contain fluids for water contamination.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) offers a free tool to assist used car shoppers in identifying any “red flags” tied to a vehicle, such as theft or accident damage, or whether it was written off as a total loss through an insurance company.
If you are considering purchasing a used vehicle in the months ahead, simply go to www.NICB.org and punch in the VIN to see if it is on the registry. If a vehicle is on the list, most consumers should avoid buying it.
Additionally, it is important to also obtain a full vehicle history report. These reports can be acquired at vehiclehistory.gov, which is run by the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. Reports from other providers sometimes have additional information, like accident and repair history:
The FTC cautions that a vehicle history report is not a substitute for an independent vehicle inspection. Before you buy a vehicle, it’s a good idea to get an independent vehicle inspection to ensure it does not have hidden damage.
File A Complaint:
If you think a car dealer is breaking the rules, tell the Federal Trade Commission online or by phone: 1-877-FTC-HELP. You should also report the suspected fraud to the Iowa Attorney General’s office Consumer Protection Division by calling 515-281-5926 (local in Des Moines), or toll-free, 888-777-4590 (outside the local Des Moines calling area), or via the online complaint form.