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Buyer beware: It’s expected to be an “unprecedented year for the number of flood-damaged cars” on lots

MILWAUKEE -- Hundred of thousands of hurricane-affected vehicles are about to hit the car market. It's likely some are already on Wisconsin lots. Buyers beware -- the car history you're being given may not be accurate.

Cars sat underwater for days on the flooded streets of Houston and the Gulf Coast.

"This could be an unprecedented year for the number of flood-damaged cars that return to the road," said Chris Basso of CarFax. 

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Basso says the biggest problem is many buyers won't be told the car they're interested was even involved in a flood.

"Conmen have manipulated the paperwork and cleaned up these cars to make them look like any great used car that's on the market today," Basso said.

Nine months after Superstorm Sandy, CarFax bought a vehicle that had been submerged in floodwaters. Then, they had mechanics fix it up.

CarFax refurbishes a flood-damaged car from Superstorm Sandy in less than five hours.

"In less than five hours, we were able to clean up the vehicle, make it look like it was practically brand new again and hide those issues that exist with flooded cars," Basso revealed.

The issues of corrosion or electrical problems were completely hidden even though they could become obvious to a new owner in a short period of time.

The buyer for Braeger Chevrolet in Milwaukee, Adam Kranz, says there are certain ways to inspect a car to see if it has been involved in a flood.  First, you can peel back carpeting in the trunk and look under the spare tire.

"So you start looking for water lines and dampness," Kranz explained.

You may also notice a musty smell inside the vehicle.

Adam Kranz explains how to look for flood damage on a vehicle.

Next, you can check the metal tracks on the car floor.

"That's not treated metal so it's going to rust very quickly," Kranz said.

It's important to check the car for rust on any seat rails, bolts or nuts.

You should, also, unroll the seatbelt. If the car was involved in a flood, the seatbelt may still be damp or have mold on it.

After that, Kranz says you should inspect the headlights for any signs of moisture. New headlights can cost upwards of a thousand dollars. So, people will skip the step of changing them.

Also, look under the hood for any debris or sediments.

In addition, check the vehicle's CarFax and be skeptical of any gaps in the vehicle's history.

Finally, take the car for a thorough test drive to see how it operates on the road.

It's not just used cars buyers need to worry about either because car dealerships had lots of flooded vehicles too. So, you may see zero miles on a vehicle that was completely submerged in water at one point.

Kranz says it's not a question of if flooded vehicles will show up in Wisconsin, but when and how many.

So, choose your dealer carefully.

"You gotta do business with reputable people," Kranz advised.