Attorney General: Watch out for water-damaged cars going up for sale

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LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – There’s a warning today related to the widespread floods that hit Michigan last week.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is cautioning drivers to watch out for water-damaged vehicles that could show up for sale.

Vehicles with flood damage can appear for sale on the internet or at car lots far away from the storm area, without any mention of flood damage or obvious signs of damage.

“It is important to do your research before making a car purchase, and I urge anyone looking into purchasing a used vehicle to take extra time in examining their potential new car,” said Schuette.

Water can damage vital parts of a car including airbag sensors, brakes, and electrical systems and the damage may not show up right away.

Weeks or months could pass before evidence of damage is known, putting the purchase past warranty and leaving the driver without a working car.

The attorney general’s office has some reminders for people before they purchase a used vehicle.

Have the vehicle inspected by an independent, competent automotive technician who has no relation to the seller. Since water damage can be hard to spot, paying an expert mechanic for an inspection is a good idea.

Check the vehicle history by getting the vehicle identification number. They trace its history through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System database for a small fee. That small cost could save you a lot of money later. The National Motor Vehicle Information System is administered by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Some consumers also choose to trace vehicle history using commercially available reports such as Experian’s Auto Check or CarFax. A vehicle history should tell you if the car has been in a flood region or issued a flood or salvage title. Remember though, these databases do not always have up-to-date or complete information about a vehicle (which is why the independent inspection is critical).

What are some of the tip-offs that a vehicle may have been submerged in water?

  • Musty or “over-perfumed” smell or signs of mold or mildew
  • Water stains, mud or residue in the trunk, under the carpet, floor mats, gas and brake pedals, and in hard-to-reach places difficult to clean
  • Title or registration histories indicating the car was in a flood area
  • Car hesitates, runs rough, or shows signs of premature rust or corrosion in places where you wouldn’t expect to see rust, such as the upper door hinges, trunk latches, and screws on the console
  • Always physically inspect the vehicle’s paper title before you buy. Check to see if it has been branded as “flood,” “junk,” “salvage,” “rebuilt” or another brand indicating the vehicle was severely damaged. But beware; a clean title does not prove the car is undamaged. The title may have been ‘laundered’ across state lines or altered to conceal the brand.

What can you do if you think you’ve been taken for a wet ride? You should file complaints against a used motor vehicle dealer with the Secretary of State, Bureau of Information Security, Regulatory Monitoring Division online or by contacting the Bureau of Information Security, Regulatory Monitoring Division at 888-SOS-MICH (888-767-6424).

You can also contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at:


P.O. Box 30213 Lansing, MI 48909 517-373-1140 Fax: 517-241-3771 Toll free: 877-765-8388ONLINE:Get a complaint form

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