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Beware of flood damage when buying a used vehicle

Vehicles damaged in Hurricane Florence can make their way to Arizona
September 25, 2018

PHOENIX – Recent storms have given Arizonans in the market for used cars even more reason to pay close attention to a vehicle’s condition and history, especially in private sales. Cars damaged by floodwaters such as those resulting from Hurricane Florence can sometimes find their way to Arizona to be sold.

UsedCarIf a vehicle is flood-damaged, the title should say “salvage” or “flood damage.” But scammers can and do fraudulently remove flood history from vehicle titles.

“We want to make sure potential buyers remain vigilant when looking at used vehicles and not sign anything until the vehicle has been checked over bumper to bumper,” said Willie Hall, detective sergeant with ADOT’s Office of Inspector General, which investigates fraud involving titles and vehicle sales. “Flood-damaged vehicles that have been repackaged and dressed up are a common scam after major weather events like what we’ve seen recently.”

Potential buyers should closely inspect vehicles and be prepared to walk away if things don’t smell right – quite literally in some cases.

  • Check out all of the vehicle’s nooks and crannies. Look inside under the carpet and floor mats and examine the trunk for dirt, silt and mold. Check under the dashboard and other hard-to-reach places as well. Criminals usually don’t clean all of those places. Finally, take a good whiff in those areas. Water damage leaves a distinctive smell.
  • Check the electrical and mechanical components. Water wreaks havoc on electrical systems, so check to see if any of those systems aren’t working quite right. Also check the engine for signs of rust or even random new parts. Get under the vehicle and check the suspension for water damage. Any of those things could be a sign that you’re in danger of buying a flood-damaged vehicle.

It’s always a good idea to have any used vehicle you’re looking at buying checked out by a trusted auto mechanic.

A vehicle identification number can be used to obtain the vehicle history through an online service that may charge a fee. This check can uncover a vehicle’s status as “salvage” or “non-repairable,” as well as maintenance problems, collisions, insurance claims and titles issued in other states.

For more information: azdot.gov/CarBuyingTips, 24-hour fraud hotline at 602-277-5684 or 877.712.2370 (outside Phoenix) or email fraud@azdot.gov.

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