WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- AAA Mid-Atlantic has a big warning for potential car buyers: that car with a bargain that seems too good to be true might have been damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
AAA Mid-Atlantic officials say water-damaged cars that endured Hurricane Sandy are being sold by private sellers and showing up on used car lots.
CARFAX estimates that more than 212,000 cars branded as "flood damage" by a state Department of Motor Vehicles are back on the roads nationwide, so AAA is warning potential buyers that those cars can be shipped anywhere for resale. AAA officials say nearly two-thirds of cars damaged in Hurricane Sandy are showing up in Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Illinois and Mississippi.
AAA Mid-Atlantic's John Townsend III says the cars have "checkered histories and 'scrubbed titles.'" Some sellers use "title washing" to "erase" or conceal a vehicle's damage history from a potential buyer, says Townsend. These sellers will move a flooded, totaled or junked vehicle with a salvage title through several states to scrub the title.
He suggests a potential buyer check out any used car's dashboard Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate to see if it has been tampered with before he or she buys it. The buyer can also have a trusted mechanic look at other VIN markings to make sure all the marked parts match.
AAA also suggests buyers conduct a title search or the vehicle through the National Insurance Crime Bureau's VINCheckSM service or get a CARFAX Vehicle History to potentially reveal if the vehicle was involved in a flood, major accident, fire, or other incident.
Other tips from AAA:
• Analyze the ownership pattern for any new or late model vehicle with no lien holder.
• Look for information from a vehicle's current title, including the vehicle's brand history. "Brands" are descriptive labels regarding the status of a motor vehicle, such as "junk," "salvage," and "flood" vehicles.
• Engage your sense of smell to detect any damp or musty odors inside the vehicle.
• Are the windows fogged up? Has the carpet or upholstery been replaced or recently shampooed? Pull back the carpet at different areas and look for mud, dirt or signs of water stains.
• Inspect the dashboard underside for signs of mud and dirt. This is a particularly hard area to clean.
• Look under the vehicle for corrosion. It is uncommon to find corrosion in newer vehicles and those that are owned or sold in southern states.
• Open all doors, hood, and trunk to inspect for corrosion, mud and dirt or discoloration on the door frames, hinges and under the weather stripping. Pay special attention to small spaces and crevices that are difficult to clean.
• Check all warning lights, window motors, and all electrical components to ensure they are working properly. While a non-working part alone does not mean the vehicle was flooded, it combined with other difficulties is a cause for concern.
• Always have the vehicle inspected by a quality repair facility prior to purchasing. AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities are located across the United States. Nearby locations can be found at AAA.com/Repair.
• Trust your instincts. If you don't like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!