Be on the lookout for hurricane-damaged used cars

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After every major hurricane or flood, it's buyer beware.

In a recent article, ConsumerReports.org reminded readers that the floods of Hurricane Irene mean a flood of water-damaged used cars will find its way to market.

Moreover, it's just not shoppers in the affected regions who need to increase their vigilance. Savvy sellers will move damaged vehicles into unaffected states where they will retitle the cars before foisting them on unsuspecting buyers.

Not every used car coming out of the affected states will be damaged, but many that are won't show outward signs of water trauma.

Flood damage can ruin a vehicle in any number of ways, from the electronics to mechanical systems, and the damage may not reveal itself for months or even years.

As a used-car shopper, how can you protect yourself?

There are some obvious precautions a used-car shopper can take, such as checking out a vehicle's history through a website like Carfax.com or AutoCheck.com.

Even if such a report doesn't reveal a vehicle as flood damaged, it should at least place a re-titled vehicle in a flood-affected region at the time of the hurricane.

Basically, though, avoiding a flood-damaged vehicle ultimately falls to the used-car shopper. Aggressively inspecting any used vehicle being considered for purchase is the most effective way to dodge one with terminal water damage.

This is best done by a qualified mechanic. But you may save the expense of a mechanic by identifying a problem vehicle yourself through a preemptive inspection.

Here are a few of the inspection tips ConsumerReports.org suggested:

Just a little vigilance up front can save you from a lot of headache down the road.

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