With hurricane and storm season winding down, an insurance industry organization is warning about the likelihood that flood-damaged vehicles will be sold to salvage dealers, their flood-damage history illegally hidden, and sold as normal cars in the used-car market.
An anti-fraud group, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, has created an online tool where you can look up -- for free -- a car's vehicle identification number and see if it's been declared a salvage vehicle by an insurer. (The VIN number is typically visible through the front windshield, where the windshield meets the car's hood. It's usually a long combination of numbers and letters.)
Also, the Insurance Information Institute suggests being on the lookout for several warning signs that a car may have been flooded:
Mildew, debris and silt in places where it wouldn't normally be found, such as under the carpeting in the trunk, or around the engine compartment
Rust on screws and other metal parts
Waterstains or faded upholstery; discoloration of seatbelts and door panels
Dampness in the floor and carpeting; moisture on the inside of the instrument panel
A moldy odor or an intense smell of Lysol or deodorizer; this is a tactic frequently used by dealers to cover up an odor problem
If you suspect that your local car dealer is committing fraud by knowingly selling flooded cars as regular used cars, the III suggests contacting your insurance company, local law enforcement agency or the NICB at 800-TEL-NICB.