BBB: Watch out for flood-damaged used cars

The Better Business Bureau serving metro Atlanta is warning used-car buyers to watch out for unscrupulous businesses and individuals who may try to sell flood-damaged cars without revealing the vehicles’ history.

BBB advises consumers to take the following steps:

– Ask to see the title. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped “salvage.” If you are still suspicious, purchase a vehicle history report, which should tell you if a car has ever been tagged as “salvage” or “flood damaged” in any state.

– Carefully check the dashboard. Examine all gauges to make sure they are accurate, and there are no signs of water. Look for indications that the dashboard may have been removed.

– Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle when drying.

– Check the trunk, glove compartment and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage. Look for open drainage holes in the bottom of the vehicle.

– Look for discolored, faded or mildewed upholstery and carpeting. Recently shampooed carpets may be cause for concern. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.

– Look for standing water, mud or grit in the spare tire wheel well or around the engine compartment under the hood.

– Before buying any used car, you should get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic.

32 comments Add your comment


September 24th, 2009
11:09 am

Deceased trout in trunk is also a red flag.


September 24th, 2009
11:13 am

Good tips, but the BBB is also a scam all by themselves.


September 24th, 2009
11:27 am


September 24th, 2009
11:49 am

Buy from a franchised dealer – I agree the BBB is a scam and they do absolutely nothing except take monies from business and give nothing to the consumer!


September 24th, 2009
11:59 am

What a coincidence…a pollster just called me for my feedback on BBB performance. Opportunity: seized.


September 24th, 2009
12:04 pm

Don’t buy a vehicle with aq salvage title. just don’t do it. many insurance companies will not write a policy on a vehicle with a salvage title. something serious enough has happened to a vehicle with a salvage title that an insurance company has declared it a total loss or “totaled” that vehicle. save yourself a huge headache.

Andy in Blairsville

September 24th, 2009
12:05 pm

Unless the law has changed its very easy to ‘wash’ a title in Kentucky so be aware of Kentucky titles anyway.

Also, as pointed out on recently on a Fox 5 I-Team investigation CarFax’s aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. This should be well known but many consumers don’t realize Carfax is in business for the dealers to sell more cars not to help Joe Schmoe make a wise decision.

One of the best ways to look for water damage is grab a flashlight and look under the dash for for rust because there is a lot of bare metal under a dash and don’t be afraid to pull back the carpet off the floor and look for rust and water stains on the floorboards.

Once a car has been wet you can’t stop the inevitable corrosion.

As stated the BBB is like the Chamber of Commerce….a joke.


September 24th, 2009
12:05 pm

Enter your comments hereAlways have any potential used car purchased evaluated before you buy it, Hopefully by someone you know and trust.It could be money very well spent,as even branded car dealers wont reveal issues with vehicles they have aquired to save their own pockets.Be sure and ask for current ASE certification.Prefer a master level tech.ask to see written credentials and certificates.Dont be afraid to ask,most guys are proud of it.Check into a dealer who sells that type of vehicle.But be wary of recon cost.


September 24th, 2009
12:27 pm

These are very good tips . Especially lifting the trunk carpet and taking spare out and look underside of it and the floor beneath it.


September 24th, 2009
12:34 pm

Water isn’t what “causes” rust, it helps it along. To Andy’s comment, I too have noticed rusted bare metal bracketry under my dash while working on wiring. This has been the case ever since the car was NEW and it was bought from a dealer, not having been a flood damaged car.
The point is oxidation causes rust, e.g. iron being exposed to air. There are many other ways to check for water damage which have been mentioned above. Don’t turn down a car you suspect has water damage just because you see the beginnings of rust under the dash, if there aren’t any other visible signs, bare metal, under-dash bracketry may not tell you anything.


September 24th, 2009
12:46 pm

Richard-Franchised dealers are just as likely to lie to you as independent dealers about this stuff


September 24th, 2009
12:51 pm

used car dealers are dirty sobs


September 24th, 2009
12:56 pm

Andy in Blairsville – Agreed about Carfax reports. When my dad bought a used car for me in college, he ordered a carfax report. He went ahead and ordered one for another car he owned. Both came back clean. The thing is, the car he already owned had been in two accidents with my sister and another with my mom, all of which were reported through police and insurance–but none of them showed up on the Carfax report.


September 24th, 2009
12:57 pm

the new car dealers are not any better


September 24th, 2009
1:03 pm

A car fax report only shows wreaks that have been reported, if the person does not report the wreak, and does the repair their self it will not show up on a car fax report.


September 24th, 2009
1:05 pm

If you take a look at the photo for this story, it is a Cash For Clunker vehicle and thus is not supposed to be on sale in the first place.


September 24th, 2009
1:11 pm

Why is the BBB promoting Carfax? I own a car that the Carfax shows no accidents or major repairs, and know that the car was wrecked and salvaged, and the repair work done by car dealers…..I trust the BBB as far as I can through them….they are another government funded fraud…

Noah Little

September 24th, 2009
1:20 pm

The word the caption writer is looking for is “immersed,” not “emerged.”


September 24th, 2009
1:24 pm

BUYER BEware…..Just exercise common sense…..good Lord…But—.If you are a liberal democrat….you are not going to heed that advice anyway….


September 24th, 2009
1:25 pm

Make sure your car was never owned by Ted Kennedy … one of his cars had severe water damage.


September 24th, 2009
1:28 pm

Nice that that the BBB has given a heads up to dealers who may a not have checked some of the points in the checklist above, now they can go back and cover up a little better.


September 24th, 2009
1:28 pm

another thing i’ve noticed is a lot of wheels will show rust behind the hubcaps on a relatively new car, 2004-present. NOT a good sign


September 24th, 2009
1:33 pm

On Tuesday of this week, I went to a place where the vehicles were “reasonbly priced”. I came across one vehicle there that had water damage. There was It explained “reasonably priced”. The Carfax didn’t mention it had any damage or salvage.


September 24th, 2009
1:36 pm is far better than carfax. You won’t see any dealers advertising for you to check their car’s history through
Klesko: Good one.


September 24th, 2009
1:49 pm

I just had work done to my car to replace a fuel pump. the mechanic and service clerk tried to tack on a bunch of recommended stuff pushing the invoice bill to about 1300. I made them take it off. then the mechanic is going to tell me my car looks like it was flooded. I told him I have owned the car since 2000 its a 2001 pontiac grand am. I told him the car was never flooded. He says it looks like it. I told him My car has Never been flooded other than rain falling on it. I should Know if my car was flooded. Its amazing how stupid they think the customer is.

Machoman Randy Savage

September 24th, 2009
2:21 pm

Watch out for rip offs out their folks! Ohhhhh yeeeeahhhhh!


September 24th, 2009
2:39 pm

Terry, who would you have to report the accident to, aside from the police and insurance? In the case of my dad’s car, both of those parties were notified. Do you have to call Carfax directly? Am I missing something?


September 24th, 2009
3:02 pm

I would ignore what Terry says. S(he) can’t even spell the word wreck correctly. Those wrecks must have WREAKed havoc on them. haha


September 25th, 2009
7:56 am

It amazes me that insurance companies can provide the police with electronic data about the status of your insurance coverage, but they claim that they can’t give the same instantaneous turnaround to the databases that Carfax and Autosafe (to name two reporting companies).

Police incident reports are likewise delayed.

Thus, negative data about vehicles doesn’t appear in those services until much later – many times, after the car has been sold to an unsuspecting buyer.

But hey, it’s better than the information we had ten years ago!

jackie baines

September 25th, 2009
10:39 pm

On “water cars”, if you pull back any rubber seals and insulation, such as that right where the window starts up out of the door. Just roll the window down, and fold back the semi-hard seal, it will have mildew behind that rubber. they can not clean it all and generally will not go here because it is out of sight. Out of sight, out of mind. Also, new cars have 25-30 on board computers and a lot of small electronic relays, It would cost a ton to replace all of them and they will work fine, for a short period of time. be careful.

jackie baines

September 25th, 2009
10:42 pm

I also heard that that Alabama has a weak title law that the sneak dealers use to “wash” a Georgia salvage title.


September 26th, 2009
8:28 am

Enter your comments here
Dealers used to “wash” car titles through Tennessee and other states, but new laws now require the person requesting a transfer of title from one state to another to verify there is no salvage title issued for the vehicle before a new registration can take place.
Carfax is not a perfect source, some insurance companies do not make public any repairs made to a vehicle, it lowers the value, and they have to pony up the depreciation, so they do not make public any reports.
I am a technician for one of the big three, water damage is hard to spot initially, over time it becomes easier, pull up the carpet, the front passenger is easiest, look at the thick insulation underneath, if it has been water soaked, it will have trash and dried mud trapped there, if it looks brand new, on a 10 year old car, warning sign.
Let the door window all the way down, shine a small flashlight into the opening, look down inside the door, dried mud will collect at the very bottom, there are also holes in the inside of the door bottom to drain water, get down and look at them, trash and leaves will gather near there.
Finally, take the car to a dealer for checkout, no exception, the dealer can run the VIN and may give you that information upon request, recent repairs, where the car originated all that information is available, to them.