BBB warns of flood-damaged vehicles from Hurricane Harvey

Consumer experts are warning Wisconsin residents to be wary of flood-damaged vehicles from Hurricane Harvey making their way to the area.

After a vehicle has incurred flood damage, the insurance company may declare it a total loss, officials said. When a car is declared a total loss, it should be sent to the junkyard, but sometimes those cars are sold at auction as salvage vehicles, or they may end up for sale in used car lots, classified ads or online.

“Vehicles that have suffered water damage could hit local markets soon, and the problems aren’t always immediate or easy to spot, especially after a thorough cleaning, some new carpeting and floor mats,” said Jim Temmer, president and CEO of the BBB Serving Wisconsin. “Cars exposed to flood waters can have hidden problems, including mold and mildew, computer malfunctions, rusty wiring, and safety items, such as airbags, that don’t inflate.”

Before hitting the market, BBB officials suggest these tips:

Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged area and if the title is stamped ‘salvage.’
Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and look for signs of water.
Test the equipment including lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, sound system, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
Flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend of crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.
Check the interior of the trunk and glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dashboard for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.
Check for a well-defined line, or ‘watermark,’ and for musty odors resulting from mildew.
Check the car’s dealer’s BBB Business Profile to see if they have a history of complaints.
Ask the dealer directly if the car has been damaged by floodwater.
Get a vehicle history report based on its VIN number.