Soggy heist: car buyers beware

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Australians shopping on the used-car market are being warned against potential rip-offs as thousands of water-damaged vehicles flood the market.

After months of heavy rainfall on the east coast of Australia this year, it's feared that a number of vehicles will be sold without the history of damage being declared.  

David Scognamiglio, head of consumer vehicle research site, said buyers could get stung if they unknowingly buy a car that has been deemed a statutory write-off.

"But that doesn't stop some sellers trying to rip off unsuspecting buyers," he said.

"There are likely to be thousands hitting the market in the next few months.

"We've already seen them at a lot of auctions."

Tell-tale signs and how to identify a lemon

Identifying a salvaged car for sale can be difficult for the untrained eye, but there is a way to spot a car with flood damage.

Scognamiglio recommends looking in the glovebox, behind the dashboard or under the seat for a tide line or any sign of water or mud. It's also vital to check for debris or rust in suspension components and fuse box and to lift seat covers to look for any damage to original fabric.

Used cars can prove excellent value for money and a worthwhile investment. But buying a pre-loved car can also be risky business, with many unscrupulous operators in the market.

Aside from water-logged vehicles, potential pitfalls can include outstanding car loans secured against the vehicle, fiddled odometers and even being lumbered with a stolen car. Then there's the added challenge of finding a car loan to secure the deal.

Despite the many traps, just one-in-three used car buyers takes the necessary steps to check a vehicle's history, says the Veda Group. But with the launch of a new national register, which allows Australian consumers and businesses to more easily check used goods such as cars and boats for any security interest over it, it's now much easier.

The Personal Property Securities Register, which opened for business on January 30, replaces more than 70 different Commonwealth, state and territory acts and registers used to regulate personal property used as security. It doesn't take long to do the research, which could save you money and the heartache of falling victim to a dodgy deal.

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