The state's licensing department is warning consumers about a flood of "flood cars," vehicles damaged in Texas and South Carolina floods that could get cheap or insufficient repairs and then get sold in Washington.

It is not illegal to sell a flood car, although many consumers won't know the vehicle's history and could end up with a dangerous or badly damaged car or truck.

"Expect the impact of killer floods in Texas and king tides in South Carolina to spread beyond those regional economies," according to the DOL's blog this week.

"I've seen vehicles involved in really minor accidents, and the axles have fallen apart, because they were so rusted," said Scott Wagner, senior special agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Wagner investigates "flood cars" on behalf of insurance companies.

DOL has some advice for car-shoppers, including how to physically and electronically inspect a car before buying on its blog.

DOL says these tips can help to spot potential flood-damaged vehicles:

  • Before buying any used car, always get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. The extra cost may save money in the long run if major problems are discovered.
  • Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped "salvage.
  • Use an online vehicle history tracking service like to get more information about a vehicle's past.
  • Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and to look for signs of water.
  • Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.
  • Check the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
  • Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.
  • Check for a well-defined line, or watermark, and for musty odors resulting from mildew.
  • If the car's history seems suspicious, ask the seller if the car has been damaged by floodwater. Get the answer in writing on the bill of sale.