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North Carolina Attorney General warns car buyers to steer clear of water damaged cars

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HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Flood problems across the nation over the last month prompted the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office to issue a consumer warning about water-ravaged vehicles.

The warning is for those in the market for a new or used car with flooding across Texas and Oklahoma being so widespread.

“Our hearts go out to flood victims as they work to clean up and rebuild,” said Cooper. “Even though the floods didn’t hit North Carolina, consumers here need to watch out for dishonest dealers who may try to trick them into buying flooded cars.”

At an auto auction Tuesday night in High Point most dealers said they would shy away from buying and in turn selling water damaged cars.

“The flood cars, you can recognize them pretty quick,” said Jake Horton, whose dealership Horton’s Auto Sales is in Rural Hall.

Horton said he’s always encountered a rotten smell with flooded out cars. Often times, the carpet flooring of the car doesn’t match the seats or doesn’t fit right anymore.

Wayne Mendenhall, owner of Mendenhall Auto Auction, said he looks for signs of mud, sand or silt in places like the tail lights, air conditioner and in the fuse box.

“With today's cars with all the electronics and all the components in them when it gets wet you're going to have more problems a year, two years, three years down the road,” said Mendenhall.

Neither Mendenhall nor Horton believe North Carolina will see more than just a few flooded cars from the May storms make their way this far east.

Cooper isn’t so convinced.

“Thousands of cars have been flooded in Texas and Oklahoma, and it won’t be long before they pop up for sale across the country,” said Cooper. “Be on guard so you don’t get stuck with a flooded car.”

According to the Attorney General’s Office, it’s illegal for a car to be sold without the seller disclosing it’s been damaged due to flood water. The office also released the following tips for consumers.

  • Ask to see the title of any used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the vehicle comes from a state that recently experienced flooding. Keep in mind that the title will only indicate flood damage if the insurance company officially totaled the car. Also, consider checking a vehicle’s history with a service such as CARFAX.
  • Ask the seller directly whether or not the car has been damaged in any way, including by water or storms.
  • Have the car examined by an independent mechanic of your choice before you buy it.
  • Check for signs of rust and mud in the trunk, glove box and beneath the seats and dashboard. Look for rusty brackets under the dash and carpet, discolored upholstery and carpet that fits poorly or doesn’t match.
  • Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter and radio. Check the heater and air conditioner several times, and look in the vents for signs of water or mud. Make sure all gauges on the dashboard are accurate and in working condition.
  • Think carefully before agreeing to purchase any car over the Internet sight unseen, especially if it comes from an area that has suffered a flood or other disaster.

The Attorney General’s Office has also set up a toll-free number for people who feel like they may have bought a car with water damage that wasn’t disclosed. That number is 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.