Consumer Alert: Water damaged cars - WNEM TV 5

Consumer Alert: Water damaged cars

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As additional rain and wicked weather continue to threaten much of the East Coast, the organization known as H.E.A.T., short for Help Eliminate Auto Thefts, would like to remind Michigan consumers that the risk of buying a water-damaged vehicle is not limited to flood and hurricane-plundered areas.

 Each year, thousands of water damaged cars and trucks affected by storms and harsh weather make their way back onto the roads. According to, most water damaged vehicles are moved to adjacent states or other areas of the country where they are sold at discounted prices to unsuspecting consumers.

"Most vehicles with severe water damage are sent to a scrap yard," said Terri Miller, director of H.E.A.T. "But, some are cosmetically restored and placed into the auto market where they'll be bought by unsuspecting buyers who think they're getting a great deal."

Experts say water leaves lasting damage, ranging from electrical and mechanical malfunctions to traces of mold and mildew. In Michigan, it is required by law that water damage is disclosed. Here are some signs to look for when purchasing your next vehicle:

  • Moisture- Look for beads of water trapped within the interior lights. Open the glove compartment, console and trunk and inspect them for any sign of dampness or dirt that's leftover from a flood. Look under the hood for signs of rust. Also be sure to slide your hand under the seats and lift carpeting in the trunk to check for signs of moisture.
  • Mildew- Smell the inside of the car for the scent of mildew. Soaked seats and carpeting are difficult to dry quickly, making it easy for mold and mildew to grow.
  • Matching Interior Components- Parts of the vehicle that don't match-up might have been changed in a hurry. Be sure that the carpeting and seat covers match and that they don't look too new for the vehicle.
  • Vehicle History Report- Enter the vehicle's VIN number to get a history report on vehicle history information websites such as Remember to use caution if the car has recently been titled in multiple states. Some dishonest owners will shuffle their vehicle into a state where damage disclosure doesn't exist. This is a clue that the owners are attempting to clean up a negative notation on the title.
  • Go for a Drive-Turn the car on and check every electrical system possible, including the exterior and interior lights, the gauges, the clock and the audio system and the dash lights that display air bag and seat belt information. While driving, test electrical components again to make sure they work correctly.
  • Visit Your Mechanic- Take the vehicle to a trusted technician for a thorough examination. Experienced auto technicians know exactly what to look for. If the vehicle still has a new car warranty, the warranty is void if your dealer finds evidence of flood damage--even if the damage is not listed on the title. Always get vehicles checked before handing over any money.

Experts urge; take caution when buying a used car. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

 H.E.A.T. works with Michigan law enforcement agencies to follow-up on tips.  Tipsters are awarded up to $1,000 if the tip leads to the arrest and prosecution of a suspected car thief or a person suspected of auto theft-related insurance fraud.  The H.E.A.T. tip line is monitored by the Michigan State Police and funded by Michigan's auto insurance companies.

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