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Beware of buying used cars flooded during Sandy

(MoneyWatch) If you are shopping for used cars in the next few months, beware of vehicles that may have been flooded during superstorm Sandy and refurbished for sale. 

Unscrupulous wholesalers may clean up these cars and ship them to a state not affected in the disaster. "Electrical and mechanical problems often can surface long after the seller is gone," said consumer advice editor Ronald Montoya of Edmunds.com.

To protect yourself, check with the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System and enter the Vehicle Identification Number of the car you are considering. State records should show if the car has been flooded.

Meanwhile, for victims of Sandy who lost their cars to flooding, Ford (F) is joining Nissan in offering discounts on new cars. Other automakers may make similar offers, predicts Edmunds.com.

Ford is offering $500 rebates to buy or lease 2012 or 2013 Ford or Lincoln models, such as the new Ford Fusion.  Nissan is in with an even bigger price break, offering "employee pricing" on Nissan and Infiniti vehicles. Employee pricing typically knocks 7 per cent to 10 percent off a car's list price. Both offers are good until Jan. 2.

Car owners who had comprehensive insurance coverage should get a payoff for the damageup to the total value of the car. But flooding often damages a vehicle's mechanical, electrical or other systems, including potentially disabling the air bags.

As a result, most flooded car victims will be looking for another new or used vehicle once they receive their insurance payment. They need to bring the statement detailing their insurance claim when going to a dealership. 

Ford and Nissan also are providing some relief for current owners whose cars were not flooded but whose financial lives were disrupted by the storm. Car owners will be allowed to delay payments -- up to two months at Ford and up to three months at Nissan -- before resuming their regular vehicle payments.