BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - People buying cars and used car dealers have their eyes wide open to spot the ones swamped in the flood. Trouble is that it is not always obvious, and people need to double check in order to make sure they are not on the wrong end of a bad deal.
Rudy Martinez, owner of Ponce Imports on Florida Boulevard, has been selling used cars in Baton Rouge for 10 years. He recently experienced a first after he unknowingly bought a flooded car at an auction.
"I do this for a living. I pay attention when I go to select my cars. At first I didn't realize that it was a flooded car until I thoroughly started checking it out and found out that the car was flooded," Martinez said.
Martinez left the car at the auction site, saying he would rather eat the cash and not sell a bad car to a customer. Now, he refuses to buy any cars in the state of Louisiana. He's going to buy cars in nearby states instead.
Martinez also said customers need to be cautious too.
Chris Basso with Carfax.com, a company that keeps track of the history of used cars, said con men thrive during disasters like this.
According to Basso, con artists will take a flooded car and clean it up to make it look like a solid purchase. That is why Basso said it is important to completely inspect a car, inside and out, before buying it.
"Rust, mildew, other signs of the fact that water got into that vehicle. Pay particular attention to the metal parts of the inside of the car. The seat rails, the nuts and bolts, feel underneath the dashboard for the wires," Basso said.
The Louisiana Department of Motor Vehicles requires that any flood-damaged car be "branded," meaning the car's permit and registration documents indicate it was damaged. However, that is not full proof, and Basso said customers still need to inspect the car and do their research.
"There's something called title washing that they can do to remove evidence of a branded title, but once it's reported to Carfax, it stays in the Carfax report forever. So you want to make sure you're looking out for those clues as well as inspecting the inside of the car," Basso said
As for Martinez, he said he will not buy cars in Louisiana again until he is comfortable that the majority of vehicles up for sale are not damaged.