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After historic flooding left much of Texas underwater in late May, officials are warning that thousands of used, water-damaged vehicles may end up on the market.
As many as 10,000 insured vehicles suffered water damage during the recent flooding events, according to Copart, a company which works on behalf of insurers to handle vehicles damaged in catastrophes.
Roughly 2,500 have already been towed to the company’s Houston processing facility.
Vehicles brought to facilities like this one are retitled to indicate that they have been damaged by flood waters.
However, some could find themselves back on the market despite significant damage.
"Unfortunately, some of the flooded vehicles may be purchased at bargain prices, cleaned up, and then taken out of state where the VIN [vehicle identification number] is switched and the car is retitled with no indication it has been damaged," the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) said in a statement.
The process, known as ‘title washing,’ is common following natural disasters.
More than 230,000 cars were damaged by corrosive seawater during Superstorm Sandy, the NICB said, and many paid the price for purchasing used at salvage auctions.
Flood damage can destroy a car’s transmission, cylinders and expensive electronic components, including seat controls, windows and even airbags.
The NICB and others are warning car buyers across the country to be on the lookout, even months down the road.
“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,” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said.
How to Avoid Auto Salvage Fraud:
- Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, san or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
- Inspect the interior upholstery and door panels for fading.
- Check for moisture, mildew or grime inside the seatbelt retractors.
- Look under the hood for signs of oxidation.
- Check door speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
(Source: National Insurance Crime Bureau)
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