3 On Your Side

How to avoid buying a 'hurricane car' here in Arizona

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Spotting a "hurricane car" is a lot harder than you think. (Source: 3TV) Spotting a "hurricane car" is a lot harder than you think. (Source: 3TV)
In Houston, most of the flooded vehicles were brought to Texas World Speedway. (Source: CNN) In Houston, most of the flooded vehicles were brought to Texas World Speedway. (Source: CNN)
3 On Your Side asked some random people if they could identify the "hurricane car." (Source: 3TV) 3 On Your Side asked some random people if they could identify the "hurricane car." (Source: 3TV)
A major warning sign of a "hurricane car" is rust. (Source: 3TV) A major warning sign of a "hurricane car" is rust. (Source: 3TV)
The oil can also look watered down in a "hurricane car." (Source: 3TV) The oil can also look watered down in a "hurricane car." (Source: 3TV)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

Have you ever thought about what happened to all those cars and trucks submerged after those massive hurricanes?

In Houston anyway, most of those vehicles were brought to Texas World Speedway where jaw-dropping video shows the cars drying out.

Now, you might be surprised to hear that some of those waterlogged cars are headed right here to Arizona.

"There are already 2,500 flooded cars on the road here in Arizona and after Hurricane Harvey and Irma, we expect a lot more to spread across the country and Arizona as well," said, Chris Basso, spokesman for Carfax.

[READ MORE: Hurricane Harvey cars may 'flood' Arizona]

Carfax is a company that tracks a vehicle's history for consumers. Basso says scammers are purchasing flooded-out cars for pennies on the dollar, cleaning them up, and selling them to unsuspecting consumers across the nation.

“They'll clean these cars up and move them to other states where people may not be looking for flood damage and they'll sell it somebody for far more than the car is worth," he tells 3 On Your Side.

[RELATED: Half a million cars could be destroyed by Harvey]

So, do you think you could detect and hopefully avoid buying a hurricane car here in the desert?

3 On Your Side teamed up with Carfax to find out.

[RELATED: Beware of flood-damaged cars from Irma]

“I'm going to put you to the test,” Gary Harper told a consumer who was walking nearby. “I want you to inspect these three cars like a normal consumer and I want you to tell me which one is the Hurricane Harvey car."

With that said, the guy started looking at the cars inside and out. He even looked under the hoods.

Carfax had collected three different 2013 Ford Focuses for us and we parked them side by side in a busy Phoenix parking lot.

Then, we had the cars looked over by people simply walking by.

"We spent a day and a half cleaning up our Harvey car and put about $1,000 into it cleaning it up and it looks like any other car on the open market," Basso said.

In the end, nearly half of the consumers who inspected the cars, couldn't correctly identify the Hurricane Harvey car.

[SCAM ALERT: Beware of Harvey-damaged cars coming to Arizona]

"I thought it was that one. The one on the end,” one consumer told us.

“Tell me why that one," Harper replied.

“Because if you look at the engine, it looks like the most scratched up, like dirty,” he said.

However, some consumers like Kelly Rotella say they knew right away which one was the Hurricane Harvey car because she detected a damp odor.

"Out of these three cars, the Hurricane Harvey car is right here in the middle, so you picked the right one," Harper told Rotella and her young daughter.

“Alright!” We did great," Rotella said as they high-fived each other.

Some people, like Brad Wood, also smelled some moisture in the Hurricane Harvey car.

“This one has a little bit of a mildew smell in there,” he said. 

Still, he and others ignored the minimal odor and chose one of the other vehicles instead.

But could a certified auto mechanic do any better picking out the Harvey car?

Jesse Garcia has been a mechanic for more than 25 years and runs a Triple AAA-certified auto repair shop called Kelly Clark Automotive Specialist in Phoenix.

With his trained eye, he says it was easy finding the warning signs.

For starters, he says the engine compartment had a lot of corrosion indicating previous water damage. That’s something most consumers overlooked.

When he pulled out the dipstick, the oil seemed to be watered down.

And, inside, he found a huge warning sign that consumers missed. Rust. 

"Right away, I see that there is a lot of rust on the seat frame, so rust is not very common to be found underneath there,” Garcia said.

Basso says buying and driving a hurricane car can be dangerous.

“You're talking about mechanics corroding, electrical system shorting out, and safety systems like anti-lock brakes and airbags being compromised. If one or all of those items fail, you have a ticking time bomb on your hands," Basso said.

"People are trying to sell vehicles like this for top dollar?” Wood, one of the consumers, asked Harper.

“Absolutely,” Harper replied.

“And, they're getting ripped off all the time?” Wood asked.

“Absolutely,” Harper said.

“That’s why we have you in the business,” he said as he shook Harper’s hand.

When you buy a used car, always remember to get it checked out by a qualified mechanic. An inspection usually costs between $70-$100 and it’s worth every penny.

Also, find out the vehicle's history by running a Carfax.

There is a charge for the service. However, if you don’t to pay to get the vehicle’s history, you can still verify if a car is a hurricane car for free. Carfax offers this service for free. Just go to https://www.carfax.com/press/resources/flooded-cars.

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


Gary HarperGary Harper is the senior consumer and investigative reporter for 3 On Your Side at KTVK-TV.

Click to learn more about Gary.

Gary Harper
3 On Your Side

With more than 20 years of television experience, Gary has established himself as a leader in the industry when it comes to assisting viewers and resolving their consumer-related issues. His passion and enthusiasm have helped him earn an Emmy for Best Consumer Reporter from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He’s also garnered several Emmy nominations

He has negotiated resolutions with companies of all sizes, including some of the biggest corporations in the nation.

Gary has successfully recouped more than $1 million for viewers around the state, making 3 On Your Side one of the most popular segments on KTVK and the station's Web site.

He's best known for investigating and confronting unscrupulous contractors. In fact, many of his news reports have led to police investigations and jail time for those who were caught. Viewers, as well as the companies and people he investigates, regard him as consistently being thorough and fair.

Gary has been with KTVK-TV since 1997. Prior to his arrival in Phoenix, he worked for WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was as an anchor and reporter.

Gary is from Chicago, but launched his television career in Lubbock, Texas, after earning a broadcast journalism degree from Texas Tech University. Following his graduation, he was quickly hired by KLBK-TV in Lubbock, where he enterprised and broke numerous exclusive reports. His aggressive reporting in Texas helped garner him Best Reporter by the Associated Press.

Gary has been married since 1994 and is the proud father of two sons. When he's not helping viewers, Gary is busy catching up on his favorite college and professional football teams as well as cheering on his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders.

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