New Jersey has been no stranger to heavy rains in 2023.

Because of that, you're being advised to not get soaked by unknowingly purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle.

The advice is timely because of the late September event that put cars underwater, but the threat is always present because severely flooded vehicles from other states could hit New Jersey markets at any time — you can only hope you're doing business with a legitimate and customer-first auto dealership.

"Getting stuck with a water-damaged car can bring you years of anguish as systems fail and the vehicle rusts away from the inside out," said Joseph Vicari, director of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.

Check the title for flood damage

If a vehicle's title reads "flood vehicle," it shouldn't be for sale, Vicari said. But a title with a "salvage" mark indicates that the vehicle has been deemed repairable and has gotten the green light to be resold.

Whether you're trying to buy a vehicle from a lot, or you're responding to an ad online from a private seller, you have the option to check out the vehicle's title and get a history report.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau offers a free database that lets you input a vehicle identification number and see if there's been any flood damage or other past issues. There's a similar service offered by CARFAX.

Not all flooded cars make it to these lists, however — perhaps no insurance claim was ever filed for the damage, or the title was illegally "washed" in order to make the vehicle look like a typical resale.

"In any industry, you're going to have the suspect players that might try and pass something off and say, 'It's in great shape, trust us,'" said Melissa Companick, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau in New Jersey.

Inspect for flood damage

That's why one's due diligence should go beyond a document check. BBB says consumers should consider a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic.

You may be able to spot some red flags on your own. Here are some tips from BBB on how to determine whether a used vehicle is flood-damaged:

🚩 Check the dashboard. Examine all gauges to ensure they are accurate and there are no signs of water. Look for indications that the dashboard may have been removed.

🚩 Check the electronic components. Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater, and air conditioner several times to ensure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack since wet wires become brittle upon drying.

🚩 Check the interior spaces. Look in the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust, or water damage. Check for open drainage holes in the bottom of the vehicle.

🚩 Check the condition of the fabrics. Look for discolored, faded, or mildewed upholstery and carpeting. Recently shampooed carpets may be cause for concern. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or not match the interior color.

🚩 Remember to check under the hood. Look for standing water, mud, or grit in the spare tire wheel well or around the engine compartment under the hood.

🚩Do a smell test. A heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants is a sign there may be a mold or odor problem.

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