SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Flood-damaged cars typically come from areas impacted by hurricanes and are usually sent to salvage.

However, a local consumer protection office said a concerning number is being sold to people in the Pioneer Valley. When the occasional flood car arrives, they limit the parts that can be repurposed.

Paul Bachand is the President of Westover Auto Salvage in Belchertown, “Because you know you’re gonna have problems,” he said. “Body parts and things like that are okay. Things like [the] headlights if they didn’t go under.”

How flood-damaged cars arrive in Massachusetts:

CARFAX estimated Hurricane Ian brought along water damage to 358,000 vehicles. That’s why flood cars often come from places like Texas or Florida. However, the Springfield Mayor’s Office of Consumer Information said some are trickling into western Massachusetts.

“They make it up to New Hampshire for example and then they auctioneer and then they get sold and then a local dealership will buy it and not tell the consumer, especially if it’s a branded title,” said Director Milagros Johnson.

She told the 22News I-Team that New Hampshire’s Lemon Law protections only cover new vehicles, while Massachusetts will protect used vehicles under 125,000 miles.

Best line of defense when buying a car:

Taking it to an independent mechanic before you sign on the dotted line. The 22News I-Team went to Shippee Auto in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. Owner Shawn Shippee said if a dealership is not willing to let you get that pre-purchase inspection you should walk away.

“Every day we have customers come in that just bought a used car and we get to give them the bad news and it’s just disheartening,” Shippee said. “We don’t even charge for that service just because of that situation.”

That inspection can be an essential way to avoid a flood car. Especially when some of the signs can be cleaned up.

“That silt gets into places that even normal dirt doesn’t go,” Shippee explained. “But everything that we can see, if they’re really good, they can clean it.”

Tips on what to look for before buying a used car:

The FTC recommends going through this checklist to consider if a vehicle is a flood car.

  • Check for signs and smells of flood damage. Is there mud or sand under the seats or dashboard? Is there rust around the doors? Is the carpet loose, stained, or mismatched? Do you smell mold or decay — or an odor of strong cleaning products — in the car or trunk?
  • Check for a history of flood damage. The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NCIB) free database will show if a car was flood-damaged, stolen but not recovered, or otherwise declared as salvaged — but only if the car was insured when it was damaged.
  • Get a vehicle history report. Use this website to get free information about a vehicle’s title, most recent odometer reading, and condition. For a fee, you can get other reports with additional information, like accident and repair history.
  • Get help from an independent mechanic. A mechanic can inspect the car for water damage that can slowly destroy mechanical and electrical systems and cause rust and corrosion.
  • Report fraud. If you suspect a dealer is knowingly selling a storm-damaged car or a salvaged vehicle as a good-condition used car, contact the NICB. Also tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov, and tell your state attorney general.

A mother from Chicopee spoke with the 22News I-Team off-camera. Since she bought her used 2015 sedan it’s been one problem after the next. Each time she brings it to the mechanic, “They would always ask me ‘hey is this a flood car?'” she said.

We showed Shawn Shippee a few photos of the car. He said it’s not uncommon for vehicles in New England to see some rusting underneath. However one sign this could be a flood car is a water line on the headlight.

That Chicopee mother is still paying off her car, but she wishes she had done more research on its history of it. It’s something Milagros Johnson said is another essential way to protect yourself.

“Perhaps running your own CARFAX, running a title background on that vehicle may cost you $30, $50 but at the end of the day it may be your best investment,” she said.

Johnson added you should also purchase your car from a reputable dealership. She recommends checking the Better Business Bureau’s website as well as the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.