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Lookout for Sandy lemons – Ron and Don’s guide to used car buying

Ron and Don offer tips to avoid getting swindled by an unscrupulous seller trying to pass off Superstorm Sandy damaged used cars. (AP file)

With Washington’s Attorney General warning to be on the lookout for used cars damaged in Superstorm Sandy, KIRO Radio’s Ron and Don are joining the chorus of caution.

More than most, they know all to well about unscrupulous people salvaging flood ravaged cars and trying to pass them off in other parts of the country.

Both lived through Hurricane Katrina, and Don bought and sold used cars before starting his radio career (although he was always on the up and up.)

“They can make these cars look brand new. These guys are phenomenal at doing it,” warned Don.

Officials estimate some 250,000 cars were totaled on the East Coast during last fall’s storm. While most should have been scrapped, many weren’t.

Your first step before buying a used car is to check out the title and vehicle identification number with the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, and/or CARFAX. But even that’s not a guarantee.

“It’s called curbstoning a car,” warned Don. “They’ll ship them to another part of the country and they will license that car in a different state so it will have a different title on it.”

While a title is supposed to reflect if a car was damaged in a flood, Don also cautioned some swindlers will even pay off licensing officials to get that removed.

One red flag is the license plate, or lack of one.

“If it’s a brand new Washington license plate, and the car has never been licensed in Washington before, look out. That may be a car you don’t want to buy,” Don said.

He also warned to avoid a car that has no license plate, especially if the seller tries to spin some story about why.

Ultimately though, your eyes should be the last thing you rely on. You simply can’t see the corrosion, especially to the electrical system. No matter what, get it checked out by a trusted mechanic.

“That is the best $100 you’re ever going to spend,” said Ron. He should know. After Katrina, he had to deal with plenty of flood damage.

You should be particularly cautious when buying from a private party or less reputable used car lot. And if you’re buying from a dealer, make sure they guarantee it in writing.

“Just because you look at a CarFax and all that, that may not show up on the CarFax,” said Don.
“Make them stand behind that particular car.”

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