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How to avoid flood-damaged cars when buying used vehicles

An abandoned vehicle sits in flood waters on the I-10 highway in Houston, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Following the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Harvey that swept across several southern states, flood-damaged vehicles are moving into the used car market.

Car buyers should not be fooled by a shiny exterior and the “new car smell.” Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson warned that the cars might appear to be in good condition, but still harbor serious issues like mildew and corroded wires that can cause electrical problems.

The Department of Justice estimates that as many as a million flood-damaged vehicles could be resold in the U.S.

If you think you’ve bought a car that has been through a flood, you cantry to return it or file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office (Washington or Oregon).

AG Ferguson said there are several ways to ensure that you are not one of those unlucky buyers:

RESEARCH: Before you make the purchase, check the title and VIN history online through the government’s vehicle history site or CarFax’s free flood check.

TEST DRIVE: Take the vehicle out for a thorough drive, ensuring you hit all the conditions you’d see on a daily drive, like freeway, in-city, hills, etc.

CHECK EVERYTHING: From testing the brakes with a controlled emergency stop to blowing the horn, make sure all the functions work. That includes listening to the engine while accelerating and making sure all the electrical and amenities (like power windows and air system) work properly.

VISUAL INSPECTION: Check under the vehicle for any signs of frame damage or crash repairs, and flood damage, or any missing or loose parts. You can also check inside the engine compartment and trunk for fresh paint as an indicator crash or flood damage.

VISIT A MECHANIC: There’s nothing wrong with getting a second opinion. A mechanic can double-check all the electrical, brakes, and everything else you may have missed – especially if something seemed a bit off to you. Inspections cost some cash, but it might save you more money on repairs down the road.

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