Damaged vehicles come to Utah car lots after flooding in Colorado

Posted at 8:00 PM, Oct 11, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY -- Buyer beware. That’s according to officials with the Colorado Automobile Association, who say hundreds of cars damaged in the recent floods that ravaged Colorado are now on the market or could be soon, and some of them are making their way to Utah.

Many of these cars have been damaged beyond repair, even if they look fine on the outside.

For many people, a car is their second biggest financial investment, other than their home. Experts said when car shopping, don’t just pop the hood and kick the tires – make sure to really know the car’s history and the kind of damage it’s had.

Industry experts said car shoppers may be tempted by a really good deal, but often times, if the deal is too good to be true, that usually means the car may not be up to snuff.

Nick Markosian is the owner of the West Valley Auto Plaza in Taylorsville. He said it should be easy for consumers to spot immediate red flags, especially with cars that have severe flood damage.

“If a car's been sitting in a river for a week you're going to be able to tell,” he said. “The carpets will be a mess. It's gonna be smelly, mildewy, wiring harnesses aren't gonna work. If you turn the car on and it's like a Christmas tree on the dashboard then you know it's got electrical problems. When they're exposed to water... it's really, really hard to deal with that.”

Severely damaged cars have come to Utah after the recent floods in Colorado, Hurricane Sandy, and even years ago after Hurricane Katrina. Experts said there are laws in place to protect against this, but they’re not always fool-proof.

Craig Bickmore is the Executive Director of New Car Dealers of Utah, and he said, “Sometimes those vehicles creep into the automotive fleet, so to speak, undisclosed.”

So what are the best practices to protect yourself from a bad buy? Experts said consumers should ask a lot of questions and do their homework.

“That's the beautiful thing about this day in age: It's so hard to hide something like that now with all the information we have via the internet, and the states reporting incidences like that, you're just much safer than you would have been even five years ago back when Katrina happened,” Markosian said.

There are several different vehicle history sites consumers can check, with CARFAX being one of them. It’s also important to buy from a reputable dealership. If an insurance company totaled the car and it has a branded title, dealers are required to disclose that information.

If an insurance company was never involved and never marked on the title, dealers could get away with not disclosing that information. If damage information is disclosed and the buyer still purchases the car, they’re buying the car “as-is,” which can be a gamble.