Hundreds of thousands of cars were flooded in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma last fall, in Texas and Florida.
Most have since been scrapped for parts. But some get a second life, sold to unsuspecting buyers in northern states, hundreds of miles from where they were flooded months earlier.
Steve Porter of Newport, Kentucky, believes he just got stuck with one: A 2005 Chevy Van with low miles and a very low price.
But just one day after his purchase from a Northern Kentucky used car lot, Porter said warning lights started coming on.
"The first thing we noticed was for ABS and the air bags," he said. "Then it was the check engine light."
Knew it had issues, but not flood damage
Porter knew when he bought it the underside had some rust, and the engine bay had what looked like a light coating of road salt in it, which he figured was normal after a cold winter in Northern states.
But when he took it to a repair shop, the mechanic told him it wasn't road salt, but sea salt causing his troubles.
So the mechanic helped him fun a Carfaxreport, where they learned the van was located in the Florida Keys last fall, where it was flooded by hurricane Irma.
It was then sold at auction as "salvage," according to Carfax.
"The insurance company ran it up as a complete loss," Porter said, "and labeled it a salvage and flood damaged vehicle."
But he didn't know that at the time of purchase, he says, because he didn't want to splurge for a Carfax report, and the dealer only said it had a "rebuilt" title.
As with many flood damaged cars this one looked good inside: in fact the dashboard and rubber floor mats were even shiny with Armor All.
Warning signs of a flooded car
But Carfax's Chris Basso says it's very easy to hide the telltale signs of a flood.
"Flooded cars literally rot from the inside out," he told us in a special report last fall. "But cosmetically, on the outside, they can look like any used car on the road."
Basso says warning signs include:
- Sand or salt in the engine bay
- Rust under the seats
- Moisture trapped in the tail lights
The dealer who sold Porter the van tells us he informed him that he was buying a "rebuilt salvage," which is why the price was so low.
We're not naming the car lot at this point, because if indeed they told Porter it was a rebuilt salvage car, they did nothing wrong, according to Kentucky law.
A "rebuilt" title would not show it had been flooded in the State of Kentucky, according to the state's Transportation Cabinet. Only a Carfax or similar history report would show flooding.
But this is why you have to be extra diligent this year buying a used car.
Inspect the title, pay for a Carfax report, and be very suspicious of cars from Florida or especially the Houston area, so you don't waste your money.
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