Buyer Beware: Vehicles flooded by Harvey or Irma may be sold in Utah

Flooded cars outside a store in Washingtonville, N.Y., Sunday following heavy rains brought by Irene. / AP photo

(KUTV) It is illegal to sell a flood-damaged vehicle without disclosing the damage - but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

Vehicle history report company Carfax tells Get Gephardt that there are about 2,000 flood-cars already on the roads in Utah currently. More will likely pop up in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida.

Utah's motor vehicle enforcement division confirmed flooded cars, motorcycles, trucks and off-road vehicles are being sold in Utah.

"Our MVED police officers have prevented over 70 people in recent months from unknowingly purchasing flood damaged vehicles," spokesperson Charlie Roberts said.

While that's a feather in the division's cap, there are certainly flooded-car-sales that the MVED doesn't stop.

"Utah is a 'buyer-beware' state, so it is important for potential owners to be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles when shopping."

The obvious place to look it the title, which should be branded with "salvaged" or "flood." But an investigation by Consumer Reports found that some flood-damaged vehicles are having their titles washed clean. Then, after the flood waters have receded, it ends up being the used-car-market that is flooded with cars that should rightfully be scrapped.

"Too often, when an insurance company declares a flood-damaged car a total loss, that information isn't communicated to potential buyers," says Jon Linkov, Consumer Reports Auto Editor.

Linkov says there are specific things a used-car-buyer should look for to determine if the vehicle was once under water.

"The first thing you want to do is come over to the front of the car. Inhale and see if there's any kind of moldy or musty smell. If you have that you definitely want to walk away from the car,” he says.

Also pop up the trim panel on the side of the door, or look in the door pockets, to see if the carpet is dirty, or if there's any kind of sediment or rust.

“That's what happened when the water came up and into the car and, as it drained away, it settled and hid in there” he said.

Linkov also suggests popping off some of the caps and covers for the seat bolts.

“If these are scratched, up or even look rusted, that means the seat was taken out so it could air dry,” he said.

Another good spot to check is where a spare tire would be kept.

“If it's got sound deadening, smell if it's musty or moldy smelling. See if there's any rust on exposed screws, on the panels, or even on the tools like the jack or the jack stand,” he said.

Lastly, look along the back of the engine bay for a flood line.

“If there's anything like that, walk away from the vehicle,” Linkov warns.

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