In the wake of major flooding caused by Hurricane Ian, Attorney General Kwame Raoul is warning Illinois car buyers to be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles that may be entering the used car market, which is facing nationwide shortages. Preliminary industry estimates show that Hurricane Ian has flooded thousands of vehicles in the southeastern U.S., especially in Florida and South Carolina. The damage includes new and used vehicles on dealership lots, as well as cars and trucks owned by individuals and companies.

“Potentially thousands of vehicles have been damaged by the flooding caused by Hurricane Ian, and those vehicles could start appearing for sale across our state. Flooded cars are often shipped to places hundreds of miles from areas hit by storms and may be dangerous to drive or pose health risks,” Raoul said. “The current tight market for used cars can make buyers more likely to rush into a sale, but I urge consumers to investigate the condition of any vehicles they are considering purchasing.”

Raoul said while most automobile dealers are legitimate, there are some dishonest businesses and individuals who may try to sell flood-damaged cars without revealing their true history. Scam artists may be motivated to try to sell flood-damaged cars due to the existing shortage of new and used vehicles for sale. These scammers put flooded vehicles through a cleaning process that can make it difficult to tell they have been damaged by water.

Another tactic they use to sell water-damaged vehicles is “title washing.” A title should reflect whether a vehicle has sustained flood damage or has been salvaged. Scam artists return flooded vehicles to the market by “washing” their titles, concealing a flood or salvage vehicle’s history of damage by moving the vehicle and title through several states. A title brand is a designation or label placed on a vehicle’s title by a state agency to let buyers know that the car has undergone an incident or damage that may have compromised it at some point. As a result of washing a title, scam artists or unscrupulous dealers obtain a new title that makes the car look clean.

Raoul recommends consumers use caution in the months to come, especially when buying vehicles through online auction sites, from individuals or second tier used car lots. To lower the chances of buying a flood-damaged car, Raoul encourages buyers to consider the following tips:

  • Before buying any used car, have it inspected by a trusted mechanic.
  • Buy only from reputable dealers or individuals and be sure to get a written title guarantee from the seller.
  • Ask the seller if the car has been damaged by water or anything else and have them put the answer in writing.
  • Check closely for damp or musty odors inside the vehicle and in the trunk.
  • Check for signs of rust and/or mud in the trunk, glove box and beneath the seats and dashboard. Look for rusty brackets under the seats or on the carpet. Look for discolored upholstery or carpet that fits poorly or does not match exactly.
  • Make sure that all gauges are in working condition.
  • Check under the hood and look for a water line that was marked by mud or silt.
  • Test everything, including the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter and radio.
  • Check the heater and air conditioner several times and look in the vents for signs of water or mud.
  • Check for signs of water or silt in the gas compartment, as well as in the vehicle’s fuse box.
  • Ask to see the title of the car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if it might have come from a state that recently experienced flooding. Keep in mind that the title will only indicate flood damage if the insurance company officially declared the car to have been totaled.
  • Request a vehicle history report from the dealer. A vehicle history report may reveal that a vehicle’s title has been branded as salvaged or flooded. If a dealer does not have access to a title history report or refuses to provide a title history report, consumers should obtain this information on their own before purchasing the vehicle. Buyers can use an automobile’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to obtain a vehicle history report for a nominal fee from sources such as National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, Carfax, or Auto Check.

For more information, Raoul encourages people to visit the Attorney General’s website.