How to avoid buying a lemon after an influx of waterlogged cars flood central Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS – After 30 named storms in the Atlantic this year and a derecho that swept across the Midwest a few months ago, officials have a warning about used cars that may be on the market.

Experts say if you’re not careful, you could end up purchasing a previously flooded vehicle.

There are about 400,000 previously flooded cars on America’s roadways. At least 10,000 are in Indiana.

“Definitely an influx of them now,” said Jason Day, a regional vice president with the car retailer CarMax.

Carfax, a company that supplies vehicle history reports, said the Hoosier State has seen 33% more flood-ridden cars in 2020 than in 2019. Indiana is now among the top 15 states that receives such vehicles. That could be because the Midwest doesn’t see a lot of major floods, and therefore there are quite a few unsuspecting buyers.

In Indiana, it is legal to sell a flood-damaged vehicle, but it has to have the proper paperwork. Indiana State Police inspects every vehicle that has a salvaged title.

“If somebody buys a vehicle that has a salvaged title, before they can have that titled or registered in the state of Indiana, it has to be checked by the Indiana State Police,” said Sgt. John Perrine. “That check includes several things like checking VIN numbers, making sure it has all the working parts it needs to like headlights, turn signals, brakes and then once that check is complete, they can take that paperwork to the BMV and have that vehicle titled and registered.”

According to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Indiana has handed out 14,930 titles to flood-ridden vehicles since 2010. Most of those were issued in 2013.

“I do think our inspectors find evidence sometimes that the new owner didn’t quite realize,” Perrine said.

Experts say it’s up to the consumer to be vigilant.

“The first thing is, do your homework! If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is,” Perrine explained. “We’re very fortunate with technology that there is a lot of information out there. You can find out a lot about a vehicle, a specific vehicle or just make and model and if the price is too good to be true that’s the first red flag.”

Perrine said potential car buyers should do a record check online to learn the history of a vehicle. Often, you can look it up by the VIN.

“If you think that maybe it has been in a flood, take a good look on the inside,” he suggested. “Look at areas where there shouldn’t be any water. Take a look at the screws. Are the screws rusted?”

“Flood damaged vehicles are bad news, in my opinion,” Day added.  “I think the safety and reliability concerns are prevalent. Definitely, at a minimum, you’re going to see some of that as well as corrosion or mold or musty smells in the interior of the car, electronic system failures, things like that are really concerning.”

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