Be a Smart Shopper
VIN Check

You can learn the history of a used car several ways, including contacting the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). You can check the vehicle identification number (VIN) -- usually located at the bottom of the windshield on the driver's side -- against the NICB's database to see if the car was ever declared a salvaged vehicle, meaning the car was once considered too damaged to be worth repairing.

A good place to start when buying a used car is to talk to a reputable dealer. Long-time dealerships with good histories won't risk their reps by ripping off their customers. With any dealer, ask if the car you're eyeing has been damaged by floods, and get the answer in writing. Anything less than a firm "no" or any hesitation to commit to that answer in writing are causes for concern.

Ask the dealer to let you look at the title, too. You can see if the car came from a flood-damaged region, and you can check for a stamp that reads "Flood" or "Salvage," required by law in some states.

Finally, beware of used cars with price tags far below market value without explanation. There's usually a reason.