Used Cars Union City NJ: 3 Scams Car Buyers Need to Be Aware of

October 24th, 2017 by

2016 saw a boom in car sales in the US, as roughly 17.5 million vehicles were sold, barely outmatching sales figures from the previous year by less than half a percent.[1] While there are still nearly two and a half months left until 2017 wraps up, The Washington Post reports, this year’s numbers are more uncertain than of last’s.

What we can expect to see though, with the several recent hurricanes, is more flood damaged cars, which will be cleaned up, shipped, and title washed by the several hundreds. In fact, half of flood damaged cars end up on the market and 325,000 cars on the road have been in a flood in the past.[2]

This is but one scam car buyers need to watch out for. In this article, Used Cars Union City NJ brings you:

3 Scams Car Buyers Need to Be Aware of

Read on to learn practical advice to make sure you don’t end up spending thousands on an inefficient, unsafe vehicle!

  1. Keep Your Eyes Out for Flood Damaged Cars

Because of the number of hurricanes that have hit the US, be prepared to see a surge in flood damaged cars. While a flood damaged car is not a scam in itself, covering up the fact that the car has sustained flood damage is.

Auto sellers—whether private party or dealership—must disclose past car damage. Depending on the state, the auto seller may only have to disclose car damage if the damage is more than a certain percentage or within a set number of years.

For instance, in North Carolina, if a car is less than 5 years old or has sustained more than 25% of damage, the seller must notify potential car buyers of this.[3] (Technically speaking, this means that a car sustaining 24% worth of damage may be able to go under the radar.)

How the Scam Works

The flood damaged car will be cleaned out, fixed up, and, most likely, shipped to another state far away from the original flood damaged area. Because each state has varying types of titles and title requirements, a flood damaged car with a flood title in one state, with some title washing, could hold a clean title in another state. With a clean title, the car seller is able to sell the car faster and for a higher price.

Car buyers, believing they are looking at a car with a clean title, may be attracted by the low price and fork over the money only to be surprised a year later when the engine dies and the transmission fails. Know that water does considerable damage to a car; flood damaged parts are more likely to corrode and fail than your standard vehicle components. Even if some parts are replaced, chances, are, not all will be.

The truth is, even if the car is drivable for a year, or even lives out its normal lifespan, you’re playing with extremely low (and unsafe) odds. Seasoned Mechanic and Checkpoint Automotive Co-Owner, Steve Back says it best when discussing the damage vehicles receive from a hurricane on NPR: “It’s basically like throwing your TV in the bathtub and then trying to plug it in two hours later. There’s just a lot of electronics that are all destroyed by water and contamination that just renders the cars useless.”[4]

Don’t Get a Flood Damaged Car Using These Tips

Use these tips to make sure you don’t walk away with a flood damaged vehicle.

Question the Extremely Low Purchase Price

At the end of the day, the seller wants to make a quick penny and flip the flood damaged car fast. Don’t be surprised then to see cars that may appear to be in working condition priced extremely low. The low-price tag and supposedly efficient vehicle may make it seem like you’ve won the lottery; don’t fall for the smoke and mirrors.

Use Kelly Bluebook to Get a Better Perspective

If you aren’t sure about the purchase price, look up the make and model on Kelly Bluebook to see what a fair price is via private party or dealership. If the purchase price isn’t even close to Kelly Bluebook’s number, it may be in your best interest to walk away or inquire more about why the price is so low.

Check the Vehicle History Report to See if the Car Was Owned in a Flooding Area

Look at a vehicle history report (from a reputable company) to see where the car came from. If it was owned in or around the gulf during the flooding times, you may be looking at a flood damaged car. The truth is, even if you don’t live in a recently flooded area, you still should check the vehicle history report. Normally, sleazy sellers will try to ship flood damaged cars away from the flooded areas to make it seem like the car is clean.

When Inspecting the Car, Look for Signs of Flood Damage

Lift up the upholstery, looking for flood damage signs: silt, water stains, and dirt. Look under the trunk mats, which house the spare tire, and under the front car seats and floor mats for flood damage. Cars that are flood damaged normally are flipped fast so cleaning is done quickly. That being said, at East Coast Toyota, used cars Union City NJ dealership, we recommend that you check any place that would take time to clean out.

Smell the Car

Get close and smell the car for foul odors and animal scents. A foul odor could mean that the car has mildew or mold in it, which can start to grow within 24-48 hours on damp surfaces.

Other Inspection Dos

Pull the seat belts all the way out to see if they’re ripped, stained, or dirty. And, run your fingers across the dash to be sure there isn’t any silt—a classic flood damage sign.[5]

  1. Running the Risk of Unknowingly Buying a Salvage (in General)

A salvage title is given to vehicles that have sustained 75% (or more) worth of damage. A car with a salvage title could have been stolen, vandalized, or damaged by hail or, yes, even from a flood. (In some states, flood damaged cars may carry salvage titles; in others, they get the more specific flood title.)

Like we said, a salvage in general—be it flood damaged or not—if drivable, may contain a mix of replacement and original parts, which means you run the risk of facing serious mechanical and safety issues over the course of the car’s lifespan. Even with a comprehensive car inspection by a reputable auto shop, a trained mechanic will not be able to guarantee the vehicle’s life expectancy. Again, you are rolling the dice.

Here’s Where the Scam Takes Place

Similar to purchasing a vehicle with a flood title, there is no scam when the seller discloses that the car is a salvage and has passed a state-regulated safety inspection. (Which organization conducts the safety inspection varies by state. In California, for instance, the Department of Motor Vehicles or California Highway Patrol inspects the vehicle.[6] In Maryland, however, the Department of State Police, Automotive Safety Enforcement Division does it.[7])

The scam happens when the buyer unknowingly purchases the salvage. The salvage could have been title washed, which does happen, especially when the vehicle crosses over state lines. For example, restored salvage vehicles in Arizona get a restored title. If a salvage vehicle in Arizona now has a restored title and is transferred to California, it runs the risk of being mistakenly identified as a clean title—because the individual processing the registration isn’t familiar with Arizona’s vehicle title types. Sadly, believing the car is clean and reliable, the car buyer purchases it only later to find out it’s a salvage.

Salvage vehicles are harder to resell. Very few dealers will offer a trade-in and, even if the owner tries to sell it via private party, it may be difficult to find a buyer who is willing to take that kind of risk. Not all is lost though. If you are in this situation and have exhausted those options, you have other options available—such as selling the salvage to a repair shop or parts dismantler.

Buying a Salvage for Less Than $5,000 in Minnesota: Not a Scam but Food for Thought

Other than title washing, car buyers may unknowingly purchase a salvage simply because the state didn’t require the vehicle to be registered as one. Some car buyers will face this in Minnesota, which only gives cars salvage titles if the insurance company states it is a “repairable total loss,” is less than 6 years old, and was valued at $5,000 or more before sustaining the damage.[8]

Meaning, cars past the 6-year mark and less than $5,000 will not get a salvage title even though they fit the salvage criteria. Although not a scam, this certainly is something for buyers to take note of; it doesn’t hurt to take a look at your state’s definition of a salvage vehicle—it just may save you a few extra hundred (if not thousand).

  1. Use Caution When Buying or Selling a Car on Craigslist

While you can (and many have) gotten a great deal on a car through Craigslist, be aware of car scams.

One in particular hit roughly 100 people in the Midwest. Those selling their cars on Craigslist were handed checks that appeared official. It was only until the seller gave the buyer the car, signed the title, and tried to cash the check did they realize it was a fake. With no payment from the car scam sale, the seller was stuck owing money on the car loan.[9] What this shows is that scams can (and do) affect not just car buyers but car seller as well.

Red Flags to Watch Out For

When looking for a car on Craigslist, keep an eye out for extremely low listings—especially those without a description explaining the low price. Also, look at where the seller is from. If he/she is located in another country, you might not be able to professionally inspect the car, let alone conveniently see it in person. Besides this, other red flags include no cash payments allowed, pictures taken from a website, and a questionable description that specifies only being able to see the car after buying it.

Used Cars Union City NJ: Final Thoughts

In general, enjoy the car buying process but don’t ignore a red flag if one pops up. Always get a vehicle history report, get the car inspected by a trained mechanic as well as conducting your own inspection, check Kelly Bluebook to have a ballpark idea of the purchase price, and spend a few minutes looking up any recalls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.


  • Used cars Union City NJ brings you 3 car scam you need to be aware of
  • With the recent hurricanes, expect to see several flood damaged cars title washed and on the market
  • Even if some parts are replaced, not all will be, which will increase the chances of it breaking down in the future
  • Spot this car scam by keeping a lookout for extremely low prices, a vehicle history report that shows the car came from a gulf state during flooding time, check Kelly Bluebook, and personally inspect the car for flood damage
  • Lookout for salvages passing as clean cars
  • Depending on the state, flood damaged vehicles may get this title or the more specific flood title
  • Salvage cars have been damaged 75% or more of its worth
  • Check your state’s regulations about titles; Minnesota, for example, only considers cars that insurance companies say are a “repairable total loss,” are less than the 6-year mark, and were valued at $5,000 (or more) before the damage
  • Be cautious when buying or selling cars on Craigslist
  • Scammers target sellers too by “paying for cars” with fake checks
  • When using Craigslist to buy or sell a car, check for unusually low prices, too-distant locations where inspecting or seeing the car would be inconvenient, images pulled from websites, and explicit description in not being able to see the car until payment

Know of any more car scams? Have you been on the receiving end of one? Leave a comment!

Also, contact East Coast Toyota, used cars Union City NJ dealership, for new and used car sales.

[1][1] The Washington Post: Americans bought more cars than ever last year. In 2017, things could get bumpy

[2] NPR: Here’s What Happens to All Those Flooded Cars After a Hurricane

[3] Attorney General Josh Stein: Disclosing Car Damage

[4] NPR: Here’s What Happens to All Those Flooded Cars After a Hurricane

[5] NPR: Flooded Cars After a Hurricane

[6] California Highway Patrol: Salvage Inspection Program

[7] Salvage Vehicle Inspections

[8] ThoughtCo: How to Understand Used Car Salvage Titles

[9] CNN Money: Multi-State Scam Targets Car Sellers on Craigslist

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