How to avoid buying flood-damaged cars

How to avoid buying flood-damaged cars. (WICS)

Hurricane Harvey is taking its toll on people and homes, but also on tens of thousands of cars, trucks and SUVs. Newschannel 20's Esther Kwon reports on how these damaged cars are a danger on the road, and why you should be on the lookout when they're up for sale.

Flood-damaged cars often show up for sale in car lots across the country after a natural disaster - like Hurricane Harvey. Some experts say those cars are like ticking time bombs that can put your life on the line.

"Once the cars have been compromised to that degree, there are a lot of safety things that can also fail," explained Mylas Copeland, the General Manager at Green Toyota in Springfield. "You start talking about rust and corrosion and things that can get inside the electrical system, which then you have shortages and things that don't work properly," he added. Engine or exhaust system failures, air bags, brakes - even seat belts could fail, too. Flood-damaged cars can even have bacteria in the ventilation systems. "The unintended smell once the bacteria and things start to collect in the ventilation system," Copeland commented.

According to Carfax, there are anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 flood-damaged cars in Illinois, either on the road or up for sale.

Local dealerships say there has been an immediate uptick in the price of cars after Hurricane Harvey hit. "You have a very low supply and a huge demand," Copeland explained. "When you think of the number of people that have been impacted and the number of cars that have to be replaced, they have to come from somewhere."

Here's how you can avoid buying a flood-damaged car:

• Shop at a well-established dealership that received good ratings from the Better Business Bureau.

• Stay away from cars with a moldy smell and those that smell like air freshener.

• Avoid cars where there's any sign of interior rust, corrosion or dampness.

"When cars are damaged and they're totaled, the VIN number is placed into a national system with the Insurance Institute. Those cars are basically tagged - or red flagged - and then the branding report will follow it through," said Copeland.

Keep in mind that it's not just cars that were completely flooded. This applies to cars that sat in heavy rain for an extended period of time or were subject to a large amount of water.

Use websites like or to see if the car you're considering has been flood-damaged or not.

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