That great deal could yank you under water.

Ever heard the phrase "If it's too good to be true, it probably is"? That saying is more important than ever because secretly faulty vehicles are flooding Central New York dealerships.

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These vehicles are often quietly damaged beyond repair with compromised electronics, which causes unsuspecting owners to shell out loads of cash to fix things like their audio system or windshield wipers.

These cars can also come with a stink that no air freshener can remove, or develop a rust that can't be stopped. Oftentimes, smoke can pour from the engines or emit unsettling noises when driving.

This is why you should never buy a flood car. But they are so well disguised, thousands of unsuspecting people purchase them and suffer with the consequences.

What are flood vehicles?

A car is essentially ruined when they sit in flood waters. Once water rises past the hood and seeps into the engine, transmission and fuel system, it often damages the system beyond repair.

Water will corrode a car's electronics, mechanical systems and lubricants. Sometimes the damage is instant, but there are cases where it takes years for a car to start failing. In the end, that's even more costly since a buyer is essentially throwing money at a black hole in hopes a mechanic will be able to fix what is wrong.

Insurance companies don't touch flood cars, so these vehicles are then sold at a salvage auction to junkyards or those who think they can repair flood cars. After catastrophic flooding, these cars then start popping in other markets.

Some of these cars could be coming from New York City.

The Big Apple reported 8 inches of rainfall in a single day, which is the highest amount they've ever recorded since 1948. Cars were swamped in sewage water due to the record-setting rain overwhelming the city's sewer system.

Now those car owners are hoping to offload their vehicles and maybe make a quick buck on them, too.


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The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles is warning Central New Yorkers these nefarious cars could soon be sitting in lots around the area.

People usually can't tell they're dealing with a flood car just by looking at them.   And this is where things get tricky for the buyer.

Beware of dishonest sellers

Thousands of cars are damaged by floods each year, but there are people who want to get their money's worth.

In order for a flood car to be legally sold, the damage has to be disclosed on its title. In addition, before the car even hits the lot, it needs all the necessary repairs and must pass an inspection.

Obviously, there are people on this planet who can't be bothered with that simple process.

Or they think they won't get their money's worth if they sell a car with a marked title.

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There are sellers who will actively try to bypass that layer of protection.

They can do so by obtaining a new title for a flood vehicle from a different state. That is why you hear so many stories of cars damaged in storms in the south finding their way up north.

A recent study from Carfax found roughly 399,000 flood-damaged cars back on the roads in 2022.

Some of those people are unknowingly driving around a car that is essentially a ticking time bomb.

How to recognize a flood car

The reason why so many of these vehicles wind up in places where water damage isn't as common.

That's because the citizens there really don't know what the damage looks like or even what to look for during inspection.

But there are a few ways to protect yourself from buying what's essentially a lemon.

Speaking of citrus, did you know flood cars tend to have a certain stink to them?

Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
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If you sit in the driver's seat and are hit with a moldy or mildewed scent, that's a red flag.

That's why some dealers will try to put a strong air freshener in the vehicle, so if you see a titanium-powered freshener, keep in mind it is concealing something.

Potential buyers can also pinpoint a flood car by looking around the interior for discoloration or water lines.

Another giveaway happens when you turn on the headlights and taillights. If they look foggy, it means a lot of water managed to get inside.


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Another easy way to potentially detect a flood car is to feel around the carpet area. If you detect moisture, you should peel back the mat and see if there's water between the layers.

That said, if you're buying an older vehicle and its carpet looks brand new or doesn't match, that's another flag.

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For the more experienced sleuth, experts say you can check around the spare tire area of the car and see if there's any water there. That's a spot where some dishonest flood car sellers can to miss.

You can also check the oil of the car and if it looks discolored, that's another flag.

If that sounds like too much, then consult an expert

Before jumping on what may seem to be a great car deal, it might be best to consult someone who can spot a flood car from a mile away. There are mechanics who can instantly recognize signs of flood damage.

Buyers can also run a car's VIN number through VINCheck, which is run by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That tool can reveal if a car had been salvaged or even stolen.


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With all the catastrophic happening across the U.S., it's more important than ever to be vigilant.

I'm speaking from personal experience

I have a Saab story. I purchased my first vehicle in 2012, it was a red Saab 900 that I named "Ladybug" because it had black trim.

She appeared to have a clean bill, aside from one reported accident that appeared minor. Foolish me, right?

Lukasz19930915, CC BY-SA 4.0
Lukasz19930915, CC BY-SA 4.0
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I paid a decent price for her and off I went. She was the perfect car for a few months - but then her air conditioning stopped working, which is the last thing anyone needs in the summer.

I remember driving to CT from Boston and thinking I was going to die on I-95 because the black interior made the heat so much worse. I remember feeling nothing but hot air blow into my face as I headed toward the repair mechanic.

A costly repair to recharge Ladybug's air-conditioner and a refill of its refrigerant later, she was back on the road and acting like nothing happened.

The cycle continued with different things on the car failing with seemingly no rhyme or reason, from the lights to the oil. Then she finally gave up the ghost right on I-84 by Hartford and I had to roll her off the exit as cars sped around me on the highway.

Later, it was determined that my little Ladybug was a flood car. In all, I can estimate I hemorrhaged about $6k to keep my car on life support before she finally went to the great junkyard in the sky.

Hopefully you never get a Saab story of your own.

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