Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul | File Photo

Attorney General Kwame Raoul is warning Illinois residents to be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles that could soon be hitting the used car market following Hurricane Ian.

Raoul issued the warning on Tuesday and said preliminary industry estimates indicate that Hurricane Ian has flooded thousands of vehicles in the Southeastern United States, especially in Florida and South Carolina.

The damage includes new and used vehicles on dealership lots, as well as cars and trucks owned by individuals and companies.

“Potentially thousands of vehicles have been damaged by the flooding caused by Hurricane Ian, and those vehicles could start appearing for sale across our state. Flooded cars are often shipped to places hundreds of miles from areas hit by storms and may be dangerous to drive or pose health risks,” Raoul said.

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“The current tight market for used cars can make buyers more likely to rush into a sale, but I urge consumers to investigate the condition of any vehicles they are considering purchasing,” he said.

While most automobile dealers are legitimate, Raoul said there are some unscrupulous businesses and individuals who may try to sell flood-damaged cars without revealing a vehicle’s true history.

Scammers may be further motivated to try to sell flood-damaged cars due to the existing shortage of new and used vehicles for sale.

Those scam artists put flooded vehicles through a cleaning process that can make it difficult to tell initially that the car has been damaged by water.

Another tactic used to sell water-damaged vehicles is the practice of “title washing,” the attorney general said.

A title should reflect whether a vehicle has sustained flood damage or has been salvaged.

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“Unfortunately, scam artists return flooded vehicles to the market by “washing” their titles, which conceals a flood or salvage vehicle’s history of damage by moving the vehicle and title through several states,” the attorney general said.

A title brand is a designation or label placed on a vehicle’s title by a state agency to let buyers know that the car has experienced an incident or damage that may have compromised it at some point.

As a result of washing a title, scam artists or dealers obtain a new title that makes the car look clean.

Raoul said he recommends consumers exercise caution in the months to come, especially when purchasing cars through online auction sites and individuals or second-tier used car lots.

The attorney general encourages buyers to have a mechanic inspect the car before purchasing and be sure to get a written title guarantee from the seller.

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Buyers should check for signs of rust and mud in the trunk, glove box and beneath the seats and dashboard.

Those who believe they have been victims of fraud can contact the attorney general’s consumer fraud hotline at 800-386-5438.