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Warning: Be on the lookout for flood-damaged used cars

If you’re planning to buy a used car, be aware that it could have flood damage from Hurricane Matthew, Georgia’s attorney general said in a news release Tuesday.

Some flood-damaged cars are being sold at auctions and could wind up at used car lots, Sam Olens said.

“Sometimes the vehicle’s title will indicate ‘salvage’ or ‘totaled,’ but sometimes dishonest dealers re-title the (car) in another state and do not disclose the damage on the car’s title as required,” he said.

The practice, better known as “title washing,” could leave you with submerged parts causing electrical problems, as well as malfunctioning brakes, airbags and computer systems.

“Unfortunately, this damage may not be readily apparent, especially to the average consumer,” the statement said.

With that in mind, drivers should check the car’s history on the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. Once there, you can enter the Vehicle Identification Number and find the total loss on the car within 30 days from various auto companies across the nation.

Olens also suggested looking at the title. That way you can check if the car is labeled “flood,” “junk,” “salvage,” “rebuilt” or “reconstructed.”

Another suggestion is to look for signs of flood damage. Musty odors, water marks or faded fabrics are all signs, Olens said. If you smell a detergent in the car, it could be a sign someone was trying to mask an odor.

It’s also recommended that you check the upholstery, dashboard, glove compartments and other hidden areas for mud or silt. You should also check for damaged holes and test the ignition, lights and other accessories.

Lastly, Olens recommends getting the car inspected by a mechanic.

“Have the car thoroughly examined by an independent mechanic before you sign a contract or pay any money,” he said. “If the dealer refuses to let you do that, then go somewhere else.”

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