Consumer Alert: Beware flood-damaged cars brought to Colorado after Hurricane Ian

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DENVER: After Hurricane Ian devastated Florida and other southeastern states, CoPIRG Foundation’s Consumer Watchdog program is issuing an alert to consumers to watch out for flood-damaged vehicles showing up in Colorado. Last year, after Hurricane Ida, CarFax estimated that 212,000 cars were damaged by flood waters.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says it’s not unusual for unethical dealers and dishonest individuals to take damaged cars, clean them up and try to sell them.

“Colorado consumers should be on the lookout for people who may try to sell flood-damaged cars to unsuspecting buyers,” said Danny Katz, executive director of CoPIRG Foundation. “Superficial cleaning does not remove flooding damage to parts of a vehicle like the engine or brakes. Coloradans should use these tips to avoid falling victim to a bad deal.”

Vehicles that sustain heavy damage and are covered by insurance will be issued a salvage title, which indicates to a buyer the seriousness of the damage. Consumers should generally avoid buying cars with salvage or rebuilt titles because they could cost a lot more in the long run.

If a vehicle is not insured, a dishonest seller could sell a flood-damaged car without a salvage title, withholding important information to the buyer. Even if the car has a salvage title, sellers could attempt to change the title fraudulently or avoid pointing out to a consumer that the title shows the car is salvage.

CoPIRG Foundation’s Consumer Watchdog program offers the following tips to avoid used cars with flood damage.

  • Look up the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The seller should provide you the VIN but you can also find it engraved on a plate on the dashboard. Do a basic check of the car’s history through the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck. Carfax also offers a free flood check of the car’s VIN. This report will show what kind of title the vehicle has and its title history. Even if it’s a regular title, be suspicious if the car just came from one of the flood-ravaged states such as Florida.
  • Inspect the car yourself. You may not be a professional, but there are some telltale signs of flood damage that might tip you off including making sure the VIN on the dashboard matches what you were given, looking for moisture build up in the headlights, and looking at exposed metal like uncovered screws for rust.
  • Have the car inspected by a professional you trust before buying it.

You can find our full list of tips here.