Hoosiers beware: Flood-damaged cars from Hurricane Harvey will make their way to Indiana

Posted at 3:19 PM, Sep 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-01 18:35:30-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- Vehicles damaged by Hurricane Harvey are expected to soon make their way into car lots and junk yards in Indiana for consumers to buy.

Thousands of vehicles have been damaged by flood waters and heavy rains in Texas and other states.

More than half of flood-damaged vehicles are resold, according to Carfax, a commercial web-based service that supplies vehicle history reports.

In Indiana, it’s perfectly legal for dealers and individuals to sell a flood-damaged vehicle, but the proper documentation must follow the car for its lifetime.

Indiana State Police Sgt. John Perrine told Call 6 Investigates auto dealers and individuals can make a lot of money by buying a flooded vehicle from a junk yard or auction, fixing it up and reselling it to you.

“These people are so good at cleaning these cars up, you would never know,” said Perrine. “Some professionals may never know until you start having problems down the road.”

Auto dealers have to get salvage cars inspected by law enforcement before they can get a title, such as rebuilt or flood damaged.

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State police visually inspect cars to see if they’re safe to drive on the road, but say their inspections they are not a replacement for taking the car to a mechanic before buying it.

More than 8,000 flood damaged vehicles are on the road in Indiana, according to Carfax spokesperson Chris Basso, and the company is expected to issue updated numbers in the coming days in light of Hurricane Harvey.

Experts say you should do your research before you buy, including running the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) through Auto Check, Carfax or similar services.

MORE | Resources to run a VIN check

While some websites charge a fee to run a vehicle’s history, others, like Carfax, will check for flooding history for free.

 Also, before you buy, take the car to a mechanic and have them check for water marks, rust and corrosion, as well as brittle wires.

According to the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, a dealer should notify you in writing prior to purchase if the vehicle has a salvaged, rebuilt, or flood-damaged title, but only if the vehicle is seven years old or less.

According to, you can look for the following red flags:

  1. Be alert to unusual odors. Musty or moldy odors inside the car are a sign of mildew buildup from prolonged exposure to water. It might be coming from an area the seller is unable to completely clean. Beware of a strong air freshener or cleaning solution scent since it may indicate the seller is trying to cover up something. Run the air-conditioner to see if a moldy smell comes from the vents.
  2. Look for discolored carpeting. Large stains or differences in color between lower and upper upholstery sections may indicate that standing water was in the vehicle. A used car with brand-new upholstery is also a warning sign since a seller may have tried to remove the flood-damaged upholstery altogether.
  3. Examine the exterior for water buildup. Signs may include fogging inside headlamps or taillights and damp or muddy areas where water naturally pools, such as overhangs inside the wheel well. A water line might be noticeable in the engine compartment or the trunk, indicating that the car sat in standing water.
  4. Inspect the undercarriage. Look for evidence of rust and flaking metal that would not normally be associated with late-model vehicles.
  5. Be suspicious of dirt buildup in unusual areas. These include areas such as around the seat tracks or the upper carpeting under the glove compartment. Have an independent mechanic look for caked mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.