BBB warns of ‘flood-damaged vehicles’

In the wake of the Aug. 7 flood, consumers need to watch out for flood damaged vehicles, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) cautioned.

Dennis Horton, director of the BBB’s Regional Office in Rockford, warned “while most auto dealers are legitimate, there are some unscrupulous businesses and individuals who may try to sell flood-damaged cars without revealing the car’s true history.”

According to information provided by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, each state has its own rules and regulations regarding when a vehicle’s title must be branded as a “flood” vehicle. In Illinois, for example, a vehicle’s title is branded as a “flood” vehicle if the vehicle has been submerged in water to the point that rising water has reached over the door sill and has entered the passenger or trunk compartment.

In Illinois, a person who possesses or acquires a vehicle fitting the description of a “flood” vehicle is required to apply for a new title with the Secretary of State’s office. Horton said, “despite these rules and regulations, many titles do not reveal a vehicle’s damage because some scam artists ignore these laws to make a quick buck.”

Consumers need to exercise extra caution in the months to come, especially when purchasing from individuals or second-tier used car lots. To decrease chances of buying a flood-damaged car, follow these tips:

Before you buy any used car, have it inspected by a mechanic you trust;

Buy only from reputable dealers or individuals and get a written title guarantee from the dealer or individual;

Ask the seller directly whether the car has been damaged by water or anything else, and ask for the answer in writing;

Check for damp or musty odors inside the vehicle and in the trunk;

Check for signs of rust and mud in the trunk, glove box and beneath the seats and dashboard. Look for rusty brackets underneath the seats or on the carpet. Also look for discolored upholstery or carpet that fits poorly or doesn’t match exactly;

Make sure that all gauges are in working condition;

Check underneath the hood. Look for a water line that was marked by mud or silt;

Test everything: the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter and radio;

Check the heater and air conditioner several times. Look in the vents for signs of water or mud;

Have a mechanic check for signs of water or silt in the gas compartment. Also, have the mechanic check for signs of water or silt in the vehicle’s fuse box;

Ask to see the title of the car. Keep in mind that the title will only indicate flood damage if the insurance company officially declared the car to have been totaled;

Request a vehicle history report from the dealer. If a dealer does not have access to a vehicle history report or refuses to provide the report, consumers should obtain this information on their own before purchasing the vehicle. With an automobile’s Vehicle Identification Number (“VIN number”), consumers can obtain a vehicle history report for a nominal fee from sources such as “Carfax” or “Auto Check” at

from the Aug. 22-28, 2007, issue

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