The National Insurance Crime Bureau has released its revised estimated total for the number of vehicles damaged as a result of Hurricane Sandy, which struck much of the East Coast four months ago. Using claims processed by more than 1,100 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations, more than 250,000 insured vehicles are believed to have been damaged, with more than 150,000 in New York alone. The true number of vehicles damaged is likely much larger however, as only insured vehicles were covered by the estimate, and only those who have had claims submitted; thousands more uninsured vehicles were surely damaged as well.

The New England area suffered the majority of the damage, with New Jersey’s 60,000 affected vehicles combining with New York’s to form nearly 85% of all vehicles that suffered harm, ranging from minor dents and scrapes to major flood damage. Thousands of vehicles as far away as West Virginia, Maine, Vermont, and Ohio suffered damages as well, highlighting the immense size of the of the storm. Residual flooding and scattered debris extended the threat of damage for days and weeks after the storm itself had run its course, much of the harmful effects of flood and water damage were not immediately revealed.

Alongside the estimated totals, the NICB also issued a warning to all future car buyers throughout the East Coast and beyond against the possibility of being unknowingly sold a storm reconditioned vehicle. Though not illegal to sell such a vehicle, a dealer must make any damages known to a buyer before purchase. As protection against this possibility, the non-profit insurance organization stresses the importance of doing your due diligence in purchasing a car, thoroughly inspecting it for potentially hidden dangers that could lead to expensive repairs or accidents in the future.

For prospective car buyers, it is important to understand the risks of operating a damaged vehicle like this, and the ways to identify them. “A car that’s been in a flood, with the engine submerged for any length of time, will never be the same,” says Carl Sullivan, a vehicle inspector for AiM, a California-based inspection company. “It’s important for used car shoppers to know how to spot flood damage no matter where they live, because these cars can end up on a dealer lot anywhere in the country… A car’s engine, electronics, fuel system, airbags and brakes are all extremely susceptible to flood water. It’s extremely important to find any water damage before you invest your money in a used car, and a professional inspection will find flood damage no matter how a seller tries to hide it.”

When looking over a used car, watch out for water or condensation inside the headlights or taillights, as water would otherwise never be there. Be wary of a musty smell inside a vehicle, as that is a clear indicator of mold and mildew brought on by standing water. Dried mud in the seat belt tracks is another clear sign, as is water in the spare tire well, a sagging headliner, or corrosion of the undercarriage. Upon the discovery of any of these kinds of warning signs, potential buyers should be certain to uncover the vehicle’s full history.

To help consumers, the NICB has made a number of resources available through their website to help educate on the kinds of damages that can result from flooding or storms, as well as provide information about flood and salvaged vehicle scams and post-disaster repair scams. Their VINCheck service can also give a detailed description of a vehicle’s service history, detailing any past damages that may have been repaired or covered up. By doing the necessary research, you can be protected from fraudulent dealers avoided the dangers of driving a vehicle damaged by hurricane Sandy.