APTOPIX Harvey

A car is submerged on a freeway flooded by Tropical Storm Harvey on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, near downtown Houston, Texas. The remnants of Hurricane Harvey sent devastating floods pouring into Houston on Sunday as rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The damage which a tropical cyclone poses to property extends far beyond when it has made landfall, a leading source of used vehicle history information for buyers and sellers warned in the wake of this month's Hurricane Florence.

With the inclusion of a free Flood Check feature at its encyclopedic website,  CARFAX®, a unit of IHS Markit, has established another form of car insurance for the consumer.

"Flood damaged cars can and do make their way back on the market and in every corner of the country," revealed Chris Basso, CARFAX® Public Relations Manager, pointing to the very scope of flood damage fraud. "There are roughly half a million cars that are in use across the United States that have previous flood damage. And that's an increase of close to 200,000 over just last year--a big nod to the impact that [Hurricanes] Harvey and Irma are having on the used car market."

Basso estimated about 1,000 of those previously flooded vehicles are owned and operated by Delawareans.

"It's certainly an issue, no matter where you live, that you need to be on the lookout for," he reiterated.

The process by which these flood damaged vehicles find their way back to the resale market is hardly elaborate. Instead, it takes a grifter's deceit and some mobility.

"Con men have figured out ways to manipulate paperwork, especially the vehicle's title, that's supposed to indicate whether the vehicle was flooded or potentially salvaged," Basso shared.

"They're removing that information and bringing these cars to other states, such as Delaware, obtaining clean titles and selling you [them. These are the] ways that they can pass off a flooded vehicle that they've cleaned up, and may be trying to hide the fact that it was flooded from you, and then quickly disappear with your money."

This summer, with Hurricane Florence flooding the Carolinas beginning back on September 14, 2018, during which some areas received several feet of rainfall in just 48 to 72 hours, Basso cautioned that this scheme would likely continue.

As a result, consumers are urged to enlist the help of experts, such as CARFAX® or your mechanic, in which a trained eye can spot signs of flood damage that may not have been reported or which is willfully being withheld from you.

Some telltale signs of flood damage include:

  • Musty odor in the interior, often masked by a strong air-freshener
  • Mud, or silt, in the tight spaces of the trunk, glove or engine compartment, where it's difficult to clean
  • Damp carpets
  • Upholstery that is stained, or mismatched
  • Rust around doors, under the dashboard, on the pedals, or inside the hood and trunk latches
  • Moisture inside interior or exterior lights, or instrument panel

"If a vehicle has been identified and branded as a flood damaged vehicle, many states have laws against reselling those vehicles [or] requiring disclosure of that information," Basso assured. "And the good news for consumers is, once that information is reported to CARFAX®, it stays in our database forever."

If a buyer is concerned about potential flood damage for a vehicle that he is considering, there is a free service available at www.carfax.com/flooded-cars which enables him to check by simply supplying the vehicle identification number (VIN).

But, in the interest of full due diligence, Basso insisted that someone, "test drive, [obtain] a vehicle history report, and a mechanic's inspection before buying any used car."