Attorney General Schmitt warns consumers that thousands of vehicles have been damaged from recent hurricanes and have severe water damage. Consumers should take particular caution when purchasing vehicles of unknown history, follow a few common-sense practices to determine whether a low mileage vehicle is a bargain and not a flood damaged lemon, and pay attention if the title is a “salvaged,” “junk,” or “flood.”

Schmitt offered the following tips to help consumers identify signs of flood damaged vehicle, as well as resources to research vehicle histories:

  • Have the vehicle inspected by an independent and trained automotive technician who has no relationship with the seller. Flood damage is sometimes hard to spot. Paying a professional may be a good investment to get a good deal, or avoid a bad one.
  • Utilize the VinCheck of the National Insurance Crime Bureau to search the database to determine whether the potential great buy has been declared as an unreported, stolen or salvaged vehicle. Consumers, for a small fee, can also trace the history of the vehicle by obtaining the vehicle identification number (VIN) and entering the information through commercially available reports such as Experian’s Auto Check, CarFax, or the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, administered through the U.S. Department of Justice, to determine if the vehicle has been in a flood region or has been issued a flood or salvage title.

    You can visit the VinCheck website here: 

  • Because some databases my not have up to date information, a thorough examination of a prospective purchase may be the consumer’s only or last resort to determine a creampuff from a lemon.Be on the lookout for these telltale signs that the vehicle may have been submerged in flood waters:
    • Musty or "over-perfumed" smell or signs of mold or mildew;
    • Water stains, mud or residue in the trunk, under the carpet, floor mats, gas and brake pedals, and in hard-to-reach places difficult to clean;
    • Car hesitates, runs rough, or shows signs of premature rust or corrosion in places where you wouldn't expect to see rust, such as the upper door hinges, trunk latches, and screws on the console.
  • Finally, visually inspect the vehicle's paper title before you buy. Has the vehicle been branded as “flood,” “junk,” “salvage,” “rebuilt” or another brand indicating the vehicle was severely damaged? A clean title does not prove the car is undamaged. The title may have been ‘laundered' across state lines or altered to conceal the brand.

Being a smart consumer takes time and patience, but if you believe you have been scammed, contact the Attorney General Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-392-8222 or online.