Buyer beware: In Barry’s wake, flooded cars are about to hit the used car market, NICB warns

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Hurricane Barry made landfall on July 13 as the first hurricane of the 2019 season, dumping heavy rain on parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. Unfortunately, whenever there’s flooding there are unscrupulous people ready to unload flooded cars onto credulous consumers, and vehicles flooded by Barry may soon appear for sale around the nation.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) warns that buyers should be particularly careful in the coming weeks and months as thousands of Barry-damaged vehicles may reappear for sale in their areas. Vehicles that were not insured may be cleaned up and put up for sale with no disclosure of the flood damage, which is illegal.

“When tragedy strikes criminals have the tendency to swoop in and scam consumers especially when it comes to the resale of flooded vehicles,” said Brooke Kelley, communications vice president of the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

Flood-damaged vehicles can exhibit a host of problems ranging from electrical malfunctions, mold and mildew, corrosion of various parts and slippery brakes. Corrosion can find its way to the car’s vital electronics, including airbag controllers, warns Consumer Reports.

The NICB offer the following tips to avoid being scammed:

  • Don’t rush to buy a used vehicle, especially if the price looks too good to be true.
  • Look for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpet, floor mats, and dashboard, and in the wheel well where the spare is stored. Look for fogging inside the headlights and taillights.
  • Do a smell test. A heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants is a sign that someone’s trying to mask a mold or odor problem.
  • Get a vehicle history report. Check a trusted database service. You can check NICB’s free VINCheck database.
  • Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car’s mechanical and electrical components, and systems that contain fluids, for water contamination.

After a disaster, NICB works with its member companies, law enforcement, and auto auction companies to identify the vehicles that have had an insurance claim filed. Most of the vehicles are sold to parts companies who will dismantle them and resell usable parts that were not damaged by the flooding.

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of vehicles that have been damaged by Barry will be searchable through NICB’s free VINCheck® service as well as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) database.

VINCheck allows car buyers to see whether a vehicle has ever been declared as “salvage” or a total loss by an NICB member that participates in the program. Insurers representing about 88 percent of the personal auto insurance market provide their salvage data to the program. It also alerts users if a vehicle has been stolen and is still unrecovered.