Planning on buying a used car in the next few months? You might want to give it the sniff test. Insurance and legal experts warn that thousands of water-logged cars plucked from the foul-smelling floodwaters left by Hurricane Katrina could end up being sold to unsuspecting consumers across the United States, reports the Kansas City Star. “There could be a flood of flood-damaged cars making their way into the stream of commerce,” said Kansas City lawyer Bernard Brown, a national expert on salvaged cars. “I'd be really surprised if we aren't talking about six figures.”
Estimates range from 250,000 to 500,000 damaged cars in New Orleans. But Katrina also ravaged Mississippi and Alabama, prompting legal experts to predict that the number of storm-damaged cars could soar. Insurance investigators fear scam artists – not reputable car dealers – already are moving in to pick through the ruins. They buy soaked cars from desperate owners or from salvage yards for pennies, “wash” the titles through states with lax titling laws, and then sell them as cleaned-up cars to unwitting buyers. While storm-damaged cars are often sold following a disaster, most make their way to neighboring states and beyond, where buyers are less suspicious. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, which works with the insurance industry and law enforcement, sent agents to the Gulf Coast this week to help take inventory of flood cars before they get into the hands of unscrupulous dealers.