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Buyer beware: flood damaged used cars, what you need to know

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. - Flood damaged vehicles may be showing up for sale in our area after the two recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

"We'll be watching very closely the cars that we appraise and look at or even purchase because of the history especially if they come from that part of the country...South Florida or the Houston, Texas area," says COO of Bill Gatton Chevrolet in Bristol Chris Lee.

Lee says Bill Gatton Chevrolet in Bristol runs a background check on every used car and mechanics will inspect used cars for flood damage, especially now after two hurricanes.

Here are some of the signs a car has been in a flood rust on the inside of the car, dirt in the air conditioning vents, electrical issues, replaced carpet, and mildew smell.

"The worst thing I guess is a consumer ends up buying one of them and it has electrical and computer issues which are extremely expensive repairs on an automobile," Lee says.

When a vehicle has been deemed damaged by an insurance company, they will label it as a salvage vehicle on the title.

"That way, anyone who purchases that vehicle, they understand that this vehicle has undergone a significant amount of damage," says insurance agent Nathan Vaughn.

If it's been repaired but was a salvage at some point, it will be labeled as rebuilt salvage. this alerts the buyer that the car has been through significant damage, but has since been repaired.

"If I know that I've got a salvaged vehicle, it may not tell me on the title exactly what happened, so I can then know, I've got to do a Carfax to find out what did happen to this vehicle," Vaughn says.

Both Vaughn and Lee warn for buyers to beware when purchasing a used vehicle. Lee says most dealerships will not buy or sell flood damaged cars. They'll inspect the mechanical soundness and appearance of all used cars before buying. Vaughn says to always check the title of the vehicle for a "salvage" or "rebuilt salvage" title, indicating significant damage at some point in the vehicle's life.

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