Hurricane Harvey has left hundreds of thousands of flood-damaged cars in its wake, and if you're not careful you could end up buying one of them someday. It's not uncommon for cars with flood damage to be cleaned up, given a fresh coat of paint and put back on the market, but Harvey, along with Hurricane Irma in Florida, could mean a "storm surge" of flood-damaged vehicles for sale. "All told, you're looking at about 400,000 vehicles that have had insurance claims filed for damage sustained by one of those hurricanes," says Frank Scafidi with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). "And that's just the insurance claims."
Counting those reported to insurance, the total number of flooded vehicles from Harvey alone is estimated at more than 500,000. "A number are going to be crushed, a number are going to be sold at auction, a number might get exported overseas to some other country, and some owners of those vehicles may retain the vehicle," says Scafidi. "But we certainly have no illusion that we will see flood vehicles reappearing somewhere for sale illegitimately, fraudulently."
Scafidi recommends car buyers be wary of deals on used cars that look to good to be true, and do your proper research on any car before purchasing it. The NICB has a service called VINcheck which allows you to track a car's history, or you can use services like Carfax or Experian. "It never hurts to get some of those more detailed vehicle checks, as you collect information before you make a determination on a buy," he says.
Consumers should also be careful about buying used cars online as opposed to in-person at a dealership. "You have more recourse if you buy from an established dealer than you do if you buy from Joe Blow who says meet me at the corner of walk and don't walk, and bring cash," says Scafidi.