DMV warns about flood-damaged cars for sale

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (KOLO) - Even though Nevada is a long way from Texas or Florida, car buyers in the Silver State still need to be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, according to the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

“The used car market will be flooded with vehicles damaged in the storms. Count on it,” said DMV Director Terri Albertson. “Damaged vehicles can appear to be coming from any state. They may look and run fine but problems can appear months or even years later.”

Hundreds of thousands of vehicles were damaged in the two storms. Insurers typically declare them a total loss and turn them over to auction houses or salvage yards. Some will be dismantled but others will be repaired and placed up for sale all over the United States.

Reselling a total-loss vehicle is legal as long as the damage is disclosed. The vehicle title will be marked with a “brand” such as Rebuilt or Flood Damage.

But the DMV says unscrupulous salvage yards or rebuilders often try to conceal the fact that a vehicle has been damaged and sell it for much more than it is worth. These vehicles could have a title or ownership documents from any state, not just from the affected areas, and they may not be listed as damaged by any state or online service.

While there is no sure way to detect vehicle flood damage, the National Automobile Dealers Association offers ten inspection tips to detect significant water damage. At a minimum, a prospective buyer should:

1. Check a vehicle's title history using the National Insurance Crime Bureau's VinCheck, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or a commercially available vehicle history report service, such as Experian or Carfax, etc. Reports may state whether a vehicle has been flood damaged.

2. Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion.

3. Check for recently shampooed carpeting.

4. Look under the carpeting for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water not related to air-conditioning pan leaks.

5. Inspect for interior rust and under the carpeting, and inspect upholstery and door panels for evidence of fading.

6. Check under the dash for dried mud and residue, and note any mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk.

7. Check for rust on screws in the console and in other areas water would normally not reach unless the vehicle was submerged.

8. Look for mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.

9. Inspect electrical wiring for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.

10. Inspect other components for rust or flaking metal not normally found in late-model vehicles.