Hurricane Harvey could ruin up to 500,000 cars; here's how to avoid getting tricked into buying one

Posted at 3:54 AM, Aug 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-30 23:58:31-04

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Half a million vehicles could be totaled from Hurricane Harvey, according to Cox Automotive.

That’s twice the number of cars that were ruined by Hurricane Sandy.

Some of those cars could wind up here in Northeast Ohio, cleaned up and ready for sale.

Sellers are supposed to disclose flood damage to possible buyers, but sometimes titles are reissued in other states without that important information.

And it can really cost you.

It's called "title washing."

“There's going to be no record that that vehicles was in any kind of flood at all. So they're going to go sell it, trade it in, it's going to be a problem vehicle,” said Andy Fiffick, the general manager of RADAIR Complete Car Care.

He says cars move state to state through auctions and if they had no insurance to begin with, they can't be tracked.

“It's been taken to a good detail shop. No physical signs outwardly looking at that vehicle that it's been flooded,” Fiffick said.  

So what should you look out for? Here's the first sign:

“If you look at a car and it almost smells too good, or they put a lot of perfume in it or something, they're probably masking the mildew odor that's in the vehicle,” he said.

Check the carpeting next. This is a good time to bring in a trusted mechanic.

“If you go and pull the carpeting back, and look down inside, what you would find in a flooded vehicle here, there'd be mud, silt over here in this area,” he said.

Fiffick says the door panel tells the whole story.

“On the backside, see all this matting and insulation, this would all be discolored from muddy water that stained it. There'd be a silt or a mark line where the water came up to,” he said, gesturing to the car door.

The bottom line is if you're buying a used car, you should take it to a professional before signing the dotted line.

“It will cost you $50 to $100 to have the car looked over, but it could save you thousands,” Fiffick said.

 If you are buying a used car, here's how to make sure you don't get duped.

 First you should start by going to a reputable dealer.

If the price seems too good to be true it probably is.

You can also run its VIN for free on CARFAX and buy a more detailed vehicle history report.

Fiffick says one of the signs your car may be flood-damaged is if you keep having problems with your car, like the power windows, locks or speakers keep going on and off.

According to CARFAX, more than 270,000 flood-damaged cars were back on the roads last year.

Houston actually had the most flood-damaged cars of any city.

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