Consumer Alert: Know how to spot water damage on a used car

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When you shop for a car, would you know how to spot a vehicle that was previously in a flood?

Leading consumer group Consumer Federation of America has issued a new warning about flood-damaged vehicles. It comes after the tri-state area has been pounded by severe weather this summer.

If you're in the market for a used car, you'll want to be sure you don't get stuck with one that has flood damage.

"These are really very complicated computer systems these days, and the floodwater can affect them, mold can affect them," says Susan Grant, with the Consumer Federation of America. "It may not be obvious right away, but later on, you could find yourself breaking down in the middle of nowhere, with very expensive repairs."

You can lessen the risk by checking a car's vehicle history through the national motor vehicle title information system at

You should look at the title itself. If it was ever reported as flood-damaged, it should be marked with an "F" or the word "flood," depending on the state.

Check the car for obvious signs of water infiltration, like a moldy smell. Another sign can be an instrument panel that looks foggy.

For a more detailed inspection, have the car checked out by a trusted mechanic. Mechanic Kenny Wenzel says he often inspects cars for buyers and can even pop off trim panels to look for mud that has not been cleaned up.

"A lot of times, that’s where the restraint control module is, the thing that operates the air bags," Wenzel says.

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