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How to avoid flood-damaged cars

WASHINGTON—You can avoid the toxic mold, failed air bags and ailing electrical systems that sometimes come with hurricane-damaged vehicles by:

_Asking the seller for a copy of the actual title before signing any agreements. If you see such words as "salvage" or "storm damage," the car had better be very cheap.

_Examining the interior, engine, undercarriage and under the dashboard for telltale flood signs. They include water, grit, residue, dried mud, stain marks, a recently shampooed carpet, metal flaking and fading on upholstery and door panels.

_Noting any evidence of mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk.

_Looking for rust under the carpeting, on the screws in the console and other areas that water wouldn't touch unless the car had been submerged.

_Inspecting the electrical wiring for rust, suspicious water residue and corrosion.

_Investing in a service that looks into the car's past for evidence of flood or other damage. Reputable ones include the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Autocheck, Carfax and Experian offer services.

Sources: NADA.org, NICB.org and the Consumer Federation of America

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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