BUYERS BEWARE: Scammers selling flood damaged cars to unsuspecting drivers
Author: Eric Flack
Published: 3:58 PM EST February 12, 2018
INVESTIGATIONS 0 Articles

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma left millions rebuilding from Texas to Florida. But the storm’s impact could soon be felt well outside the damage zones.

RELATED: How you can help victims of Hurricane Irma, Harvey

Half a million cars were flooded in Houston. Hundreds of thousands more faced the same fate in Florida.

PHOTOS: Millions of cars were flooded in Hurricane Harvey, Irma

According to the vehicle history report company CARFAX, hundreds of thousands of flood cars are headed back onto our nation’s roads. They will be cleaned up and sold to unsuspecting customers, placing those drivers and their loved ones in danger.

Water damages the mechanical, electrical and safety systems of your car. Rotting the vehicle from the inside out. But scammers buy flood cars at auction and scrub them inside and out. Making them look just like new so they can be turned around and sold on a used car lot or private party sale.

CARFAX teamed with the WUSA 9 Special Assignment Unit to demonstrate how easily an unsuspecting buyer can be fooled.

RESOURCES: How to spot a flood-damaged car

RESOURCES: Flood Damage Checklist

“We got three Ford Focus’s,” said CARFAX Spokesperson Chris Basso. “One of them was completely submerged in Hurricane Harvey; the other two are for sale on a local dealer’s lot right now.”

CARFAX cleaned up that flood car like a scammer would then asked nine people chosen at random on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C. to take the company’s flood car challenge. The goal: figure out which one of three cars was the one that was flooded.

Jade Johnson and her friends started their inspection by looking under the hood. But there was one problem.

“I don’t know what I’m looking at,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Or what to look for. But Rod Donoso, certified mechanic at Rossi’s Automotive knows.

“Usually you look for the moisture underneath the places you actually can see,” Donoso said.

Like under floor mats, the dashboard and lights which made it even more surprising when most of our test group, kept their eyes, on the engine.

WATCH: Could you spot the warning signs of flood-damaged car? We put people to the test!

“So I think this one is a lot more dirty, right?” said Anton Cutive pointing at the engine of one of the non-flooded Ford’s.

“It has a little bit of debris,” agreed his friend Jennifer Tao, who also incorrectly suspected that vehicle of being flooded. “I mean the leaves are inside.”

“I’m looking for rust,” Johnson said, also with her eyes on the engine of a non-flooded vehicle. “Wait did I see rust on the other ones?” she asked her friends.

As it turned out, there was rust on one of the vehicles, but not in the engine. Donoso found it, under the dashboard.

Cutive and Tao didn’t notice that rust when they sat down in the same car.

“I don’t think water has touched this car at all,” Cutive said.

They weren’t the only ones who were fooled. Only half the people CARFAX put through its flood car challenge guessed which car was the actual flood car.

And none of them spotted the telltale sign that convinced Donoso which one was the flood car.

“You can see immediately what I meant with taillights getting moisture inside,” Donoso said as he pointed out condensation inside the tail light of the flooded, and rehabbed Ford Focus.

Chris Basso of CARFAX said the takeaway was clear.

“It says that the average consumer, unfortunately, doesn’t know what to look for.”

Basso said even if a buyer checked the title of that flooded car, they might not know it had been flooded. Although flood damage is required by law to be branded on the title, scammers doctor the paperwork, removing the words flood damage, then getting it retitled in a new state.

RELATED: Driving Smart: Prep your car for sale

CARFAX said always check with a mechanic, or vehicle history report, to check for evidence of flood damage.

For a free vehicle history report from CARFAX, click here.

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