Flood-damaged cars after hurricanes could be flooding into Chicago used car market

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Are flood-damaged cars flooding the Chicago market?
Flooding caused by Hurricanes Ida and now Nicholas could be giving scam artists an opportunity to sell flood-damaged cars in the Chicago area.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Flooding caused by Hurricanes Ida and now Nicholas could be giving scam artists an opportunity to sell flood-damaged cars in the Chicago area.

As the demand for used cars surges, people are looking for deals on social media or auto auctions. But you could be getting a flood-damaged car which can give you big problems down the road. Here's what you can do to spot one.

"It can be easy to buy one of these cars. We've talked to many consumers and they have told the Better Business Bureau have fallen for this," said Steve Bernas, President and CEO of the Chicago Better Business Bureau.

Demand for used cars is surging. Because of the pandemic, there's been a lack of parts for new cars. The BBB said if you're buying a used car, especially through an online classified or an auto auction, you need to do your due diligence.

"Make sure by looking at the carpeting, electrical equipment; you know, once water gets the vehicle It can damage it not only today but years later, so it's really masking the, you know, the putting in new upholstery, that we've been told by consumers," said Bernas. "You know it's like why put new carpets in? And they always have a different type of excuse why they put a new carpet in the vehicle. A lot of fragrance, smell."

You should also:

- Inspect the condition of the fabric.

- Look at the dashboard to make sure gauges are accurate and free of water.

- Check the electronic components like lights and windshield wipers

"The Secretary of State's office also advises you to take the car, before you purchase it, to a mechanic and they can check for potential flood damage, or any other kind of damage that that vehicle might have been in, just so that you are going as a consumer informed, and with all of the information before you purchase that vehicle," says Elizabeth Kaufman Deputy Secretary of the Illinois Secretary of State's Office.

Kaufman said the office is weeding out water damaged cars during dealership and person-to-person transactions.

"So if a car is coming in from what is deemed as a federal flood zone. We're checking those titles, they will be physically coming back to a person at the Secretary of State's office, who will then be checking that title, and checking the insurance on that car," adds Kaufman.

In 2015, the Secretary of State's Office showed the I-Team how flood damaged cars can be "title washed" some titles scrubbed of "flooded" or "salvaged" status.

When making a purchase, you can check a national database to help you avoid a washed title. You should also run a vehicle history report with a service like CarFax or AutoCheck.

More tips

Spotting a "washed title" vs a real title:

-Look for color fibers in real titles

-Photocopied titles will usually say "VOID" or the fibers will not be bright

-In Illinois, hold your finger over Abraham Lincoln it is heat sensitive and will change colors.

More on researching vehicles:

- CARFAX and AutoCheck. People should check both as sometimes one service might have more crucial info that the other doesn't.

- National Motor Vehicle Title Information System

- Google the VIN (Free)


Search a car's VIN on the National Insurance Crime Bureau free database to determine whether a vehicle has been declared stolen or salvaged

Search a car's VIN on the CARFAX database to see a vehicle's history

Find important used vehicle condition and history information in the national Motor Vehicle Title Information System.