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Consumer Alert: Flooded Vehicles on the Used Car Market

Tropical Weather

The Tennessee Attorney General has issued a consumer alert – flood damaged vehicles may appear in used car markets following Hurricane Ida.

By law, these vehicles’ titles should say that they were “flooded,” “salvaged,” or “totaled,” but often vehicles from hurricane-impacted areas are sold to unsuspecting consumers without proper disclosure.

Below are some tips on how to avoid purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle.

  1. Use the car’s VIN number to check the car’s history at the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System
    • A vehicle history should tell you if the car has been in a flood region or was issued a flooded or salvaged title. However, title check companies are only as good as the information collected from other sources, and that information may be delayed
  2. Review the title before signing anything or paying any money for the car
    • Look for the words: “flood,” “junk,” “salvaged,” “rebuilt,” or “reconstructed” – these words may indicate the car was damaged in a flood
  3. Examine the car for signs of flood damage which can include musty odor, water marks, rusting inside the car, or faded fabrics
    • New carpet/upholstery or a heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants in an older vehicle may be a red flag
  4. Get the car inspected by a competent and independent mechanic
    • Only after an independent mechanic gives it a clean bill of health should you sign a contract or pay any money for the vehicle

If you find that a flood-damaged vehicle’s title does not have the proper disclosure, you can file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs.

If you have questions about a consumer issue or to see if you qualify for services from West Tennessee Legal Services, call our intake line at 731-423-0616, extension 250, or fill out an online application.