The Georgia Office of the Attorney General and Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection are warning consumers who are in the market for used cars to beware of flood-damaged vehicles in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“Many previously-flooded vehicles are recycled into the economy and end up being sold at auction. They may then be sold at used car lots or through online classified ads,” the warning notes.

Officials say that cars that were flooded in Hurricane Sandy may have been written off as “salvage” or “totaled” by insurance companies in other states, though this may not appear on their titles. “With new or recently-shampooed upholstery and carpeting, and perhaps some minor body work, the damage on these vehicles may be very well disguised and difficult for even a professional to detect. Nonetheless, electrical problems are practically guaranteed, and the brakes, airbags and computer system may have been seriously compromised.”

They suggest that when shopping for a used car, truck, van or SUV, be vigilant for signs of flood damage in the vehicle you are considering purchasing. “A musty odor may be noticeable, and water marks may be evident or fabrics faded. Metal may be flaking prematurely, and rust, mud and grit may be hidden in the crevices where water would not normally reach,” the warning says.

“Always ask to see the title of the car before signing anything or handing over any money. Check to see whether the car has been branded as “flood”, “junk”, “salvage”, “rebuilt” or “reconstructed”,” the report continues.

Vehicle history can be checked by going to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System:, and entering the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This is the only database where all auto insurers, salvage pools that auction off totaled cars, junkyards, recyclers and self-insured entities such as rental car companies in all 50 states are required by law to report total loss vehicles within 30 days. The cost for a report ranges from $3 to $13.

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