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They're baaack! Storm damaged cars return

Scam artists are trying to unload vehicles damaged by Gulf Coast hurricanes in auctions elsewhere.

January 30, 2006; Posted: 9:14 a.m. EST (1414 GMT)

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Call it "Return of the Soggy Sedan" or "The Night of Waterlogged Wheels", but unlike a zombie flick, the horror of flooded vehicles returning to the used car market seems to be very real.

Over four months after hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast, scam artists are already trying to pawn off flooded vehicles as your standard secondhand car, according to industry experts.

"Consumers need to be aware that these cars will be hitting the market," said Chris Basso, a spokesperson for Carfax, a vehicle history tracking firm. "They could pop up anywhere."

Recently, swindlers tried to pawn off 14 flood-damaged cars at an auto auction in the Los Angeles, Carfax said.

And with the National Auto Dealers Association estimating that over 571,000 vehicles were damaged from Hurricane Katrina alone, similarly damaged goods are expected to start popping up in regions of the country where buyers aren't used to looking for flood damage.

While cleaning up flood-damaged cars and reselling them is by no means a new scam -- damaged cars were unloaded after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Floyd in 1999 -- Basso said that in most cases hucksters will buy vehicles that should have been scrapped or sold for parts, cleaning them up and shipping them to another part of the country where they can alter the title and pass them off to unsuspecting buyers.

Such cars may look fine at first glance, but in many cases the safety and electronic systems can be compromised.

To avoid buying one of these nightmares, Carfax recommends looking for standing water in the spare tire wheel well or rust around the engine compartment as well as having a mechanic look it over and, of course, ordering a report of the vehicle's history. That can let you know if the car was titled as "salvage" in another state, even though the current title may not indicate that.

For more tips on how to make sure you aren't buying a water damaged car, click here.

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