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In hard-hit New Jersey, flooding from Sandy was mainly confined to a strip along the coast from Atlantic City to New York, and most people evacuated those areas, Appleton said.
In the western part of the state, "unless a tree fell on your car, your car wasn’t even at risk," he said.
Chris Basso, another Carfax spokesman, said the company relied on an estimate from a trusted industry source in putting out its news release. He said it was just an estimate, and the final number won’t be known for a while.
"All we’re trying to do is make sure people are looking out for these cars," he said. "Because eventually they’re going to make their way back onto the road."
Regardless of the predictions, thousands of flood-damaged cars will certainly be resold, and buyers need to be cautious.
Unlike the automakers who destroy badly damaged inventory, dealers, insurance companies and others often resell flooded cars to recoup their losses.
If the cars were declared total losses by insurance companies, states require them to get new titles branding them as flood-damaged vehicles. But some sellers don’t disclose that, and some even move the cars from state to state to wash the branding off the titles.
So even if the numbers are far smaller than the estimates, anyone buying a used car in the coming months should check the title and repair history and have the car inspected by a mechanic. Buyers can also do their own inspection, sniffing for musty odors and checking for mud and debris under the dashboard.
"People just have to be a little smart about this," said Scafidi, of the insurance company group. But he added, "We don’t want to sit here and say the sky is falling."
Seven tips for avoiding a flood-damaged car:
— Run the car’s vehicle identification number through Carfax at www.carfax.com, AutoCheck at www.autocheck.com, or VinCheck at www.nicb.org/theft—and—fraud—awareness/vincheck. The services can usually tell you if a car’s been damaged or if it’s been totaled by an insurance company.
— Have the car inspected by a mechanic, who can put it on a lift and check the undercarriage for water damage or debris from flood waters.
— Check the interior yourself for signs of water damage. Sniff for a musty smell. Look for signs of freshly shampooed carpet. Check under the floorboard carpet for water residue, rust, or water stain marks. Look under the dashboard for dried mud or other flood residue. Check for rust on screws in the console and other areas where water wouldn’t normally be present.
— Check the trunk for moldy smells, water stains, rust or debris.
— Look under the hood for mud or grit in the alternator, behind wires and around small openings in starter motors and power steering pumps.
— Follow wires to check for signs of rust, water residue or corrosion.
— Check the undercarriage for evidence of rust or flaking metal that wouldn’t normally be on newer vehicles.
Source: National Automobile Dealers Association
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