Courtesy Larry Field Photography

HELENA – This year’s hurricanes didn’t strike anywhere near Montana, however, Insurance Commissioner Matt Rosendale says they could have an affect on Montanans.

Rosendale issued a press release Monday warning Montanans that flooded or damaged vehicles from the hurricane-affected areas could make their way to the Treasure State.

“Montana could be a target market for some bad actors specifically because we are so far away from the hurricane disaster areas and many people, therefore, aren’t on the lookout for flooded vehicles,” Rosendale said.

Make sure you do your research before buying a vehicle, especially after a major disaster, Rosendale warned. He added that now is the perfect time for flooded vehicles to show up in the state.

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According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, more than 422,000 insured vehicles damaged by Hurricane Harvey are being processed as total loss claims. In addition, more than 215,000 claims have been filed following damage to vehicles from Hurricane Irma in Florida.

There are also a number of vehicles that were not properly titled and not covered under flood damage. The vehicles may not be in the system, so they could be sold without any indication that they are damaged.

There are also those who may be trying to scam buyers could buy a damaged vehicle, clean it up and title it in a different state, the press release said.

If a vehicle has been declared a total loss there will be a record of it in the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System.

Before purchasing a vehicle, Rosendale offers the following steps to ensure that a buyer does not buy a vehicle that could be damaged.

  • Check the vehicle history at or via Carfax
  • Ask the dealer or seller if the vehicle has been damaged before, ask to see the title and check for brands like “flood damaged” or “rebuilt salvage.”
  • Check the carpets and the seats for signs of moisture, especially the carpet in the trunk. If the carpets and upholstery is dry, does it look newer than the rest of the vehicle? Replacing seat covers and carpet may conceal water damage.
  • Look for signs of corrosion or rust, particularly on the door hinges, hood springs and in the door opening where the door meets the body.
  • Is there a moldy smell, or is the smell of cleaning products or air fresheners too pungent?
  • Check the oil and the air filter for signs of water.
  • Look at the headlights and tail lights; moisture can be trapped inside, making them appear foggy.
  • Check anyplace where debris might settle after the water drains, such as wheel wells, in the seating tracks, under the spare tire, etc.
  • Get a professional to inspect the car or ask to take the car to a mechanic for a thorough inspection.