Buyers beware: Storm-damaged vehicles headed for used car market

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Flood-damaged vehicles from hurricanes Harvey and Irma will eventually end up in the used car market, according to auto experts, and thousands of unsuspecting buyers – including those as far away as Hawaii – could eventually get burned.

"(Cars from Harvey and Irma) are in addition to the already 325,000 flood-damaged cars that are on U.S. roads right now, including close to 1,000 in the state of Hawaii," says Chris Basso, a spokesman for the used car research company Carfax.

It's not illegal to sell used vehicles that have suffered flood damage, as long as the buyer knows the car's history. Some scammers, however, will try to conceal the damage.

"The danger is that these cars literally rot from the inside out," said Basso. "Everything from the mechanics to the electrical to the safety systems can be compromised."

Experts recommend taking the vehicle to a trusted mechanic.

"The buyer has to get an expert to check it to make sure it's not a flood vehicle," mechanic George Nitta tells Hawaii News Now. "These hurricanes in Florida and Texas... Be careful. There's a lot of cars gonna be coming this way."

Hurricane Katrina damaged approximately 600,000 vehicles. Carfax is still coming up with an estimate for the latest hurricanes.

"You want to look for signs inside the vehicle, like rust on the nuts and bolts, seat rails and seat belts, for signs that water may have gotten into that car, as well as looking in the trunk and engine compartment," Basso said.

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System helps car buyers access vehicle history reports. The National Insurance Crime Bureau offers a free service to check a vehicle identification number for flood damage. Carfax also provides a similar service for free.

"No state is immune to these flood cars washing up on our shores. They could end up anywhere and evidence shows that they do," said Basso.

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