Florida buyers warned about cars damaged by flooding from Hurricane Sandy

Flooded cars headed our way

TAMPA - Cars flooded in Sandy's wake have seen plenty of water.  Some from New York sat in it for days covered to their roofs.

Experts expect some will peddle these cars with out disclosure. They may look fine, but they are not.

Frank Scafidi runs the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a group created to track fraud in the industry.  He says so far, members connected 230,000  VIN numbers to Sandy.   That's far fewer than Katrina, but still significant because thousands of flood cars could end up on the market, and you'll never know their secret.

"In a perfect world, there would be disclosure, and that would go a long way to preventing these problems," said Scafidi.

In Florida, anyone who sells a car -- both dealers and individual sellers -- is required to disclose flood damage.  Cars that have been damaged should have their titles marked as such or be listed as salvage, but that doesn't always happen.

Florida law prohibits dealers licensed with the state from making any false statements about the history of any vehicle.

The feds use the National Motor Vehicle Titling Information System to track, but NICB says not every state participates, so some scammers can wipe a car's past clean.

It takes some work to uncover a car's troubled past. Unfortunately it's extremely easy to clean up a flood-damaged car. Chris Basso with Carfax says with a few hours, a few hundred bucks and some air freshener, a flood car can look brand new.  Carfax's free flood reports may indicate whether a used car was water-logged.

Bill Taylor, who owns a mechanic shop, says the story of every Sandy car can be uncovered if you look for red flags.  First just open the door and sniff.  Then pull back the carpets and feel for sand.  The springs, bolts and seats can also show signs of water damage, so if  you see rust under there, it's a sign there's been water inside your vehicle.

Under the hood. look for water lines, corrosion along and inside the wheel well.

Even if the car is not flooded, a certified mechanic will be able to steer you away from trouble.   Before buying any car make sure you have a certified mechanic check it.  Many will do this for between $50 to $100.

If you are having issues with a possible flood vehicle that your purchased from a Florida dealership, please contact the Motorist Services Regional Office closest to you.  Flhsmv.gov/offices/

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