Much of the nation has battled heavy rains in 2023 and water damaged cars may be flooding into the used vehicle market, said Joseph H. Vicari, Director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.
“All too often after hurricanes, severe coastal storms and flood events, our Department of Consumer Affairs receives complaints of flood-damaged cars being sold to local residents,” Vicari said.
Vicari, who is also liaison to the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs, recommended potential car buyers thoroughly investigate all used vehicles before signing a contract.
“Use common sense and go over the car yourself with a fine-tooth comb. If the car smells musty, it may have been in a flood,” he said. “Turn on all of the electronic systems to make sure everything is working properly.”
Buyers should also adjust the power seats and listen for any grating sounds indicating sand on the seat rails, he said.
Also, look close for rust spots in the wheel wells, body and any screws.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs offers a website listing known flood-titled cars. The link is available at NJconsumeraffairs.gov.
You can also perform a free vehicle flood check online with CARFAX (www.carfax.com) or the National Crime Insurance Bureau (www.nicb.org/).
“Not all flood cars may be on the database,” he said. “If no insurance claim was ever made or if the title was illegally “washed” the vehicle may appear to be a normal resale.”
Vicari said it is legal to sell a flood-damaged vehicle in New Jersey providing the title is clearly marked “Flood Vehicle”.
“Next to buying a home, the purchase of a vehicle is probably the biggest investment many people make,” Vicari said. “Use due diligence when buying any car. Getting stuck with a water-damaged car can bring years of anguish as systems fail and the vehicle rusts away from the inside out.”
Another easy way to avoid scams is to always buy from a reputable dealer.
Dealers are licensed by the state Motor Vehicle Commission and the license must be displayed in a visible location, he said.
Consumers may also call the MVC’s Business Licensing Service Bureau at (609) 292-6500 with any questions concerning a used car dealer.