Flood-damaged vehicles from Hurricane Sandy could soon be arriving in Canada for sale to unwary consumers, officials in B.C. are warning.

U.S. authorities say tens of thousands of vehicles were submerged in salt water during the storm and have been contaminated by bacteria and toxins.

Past experience suggests that unscrupulous car sellers are expected to try to re-title vehicles to hide the damage and ship them around North America for resale, according to B.C.'s Minister of Transportation Mary Polak.

"More than half a million vehicles were seriously damaged in the flooding caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and thousands were imported into Canada, despite the fact that those vehicles are not legal to drive on our roads," Polak said

Some of the vehicles could even be new vehicles with no mileage that were damaged while sitting on dealers lots, officials warn.

Insurance Corporation of B.C. spokesman Mark Francis says anyone buying a used car from the U.S. should be especially cautious.

"Either yourself or a trusted mechanic should inspect the vehicle, looking for water damage, and that could be evidenced by damp or musty odours inside the vehicle or trunk, signs of rust or mud in the vents, trunk, glove box, beneath the seats or in the engine department," said Francis.

Before that inspection, buyers should get a vehicle history report which can be purchased from several companies online.

Vehicles imported from the U.S. are processed through Transport Canada’s registrar of imported vehicles program under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, according to ICBC.

"Flood damaged vehicles will be assigned a ‘non-repairable’ status and will not qualify for on-road use in Canada," said the ICBC statement.

"It's estimated that more than 3.2 million U.S. vehicles are labelled as damaged due to extreme weather and accidents each year. Sadly, nearly 27 per cent of these vehicles are re-titled as undamaged in another state."

7 ways to detect hurricane damage

  1. Ask about damage: Ask the seller directly whether the car has been damaged by water or anything else and get the answer in writing.
  2. Check for water damage and look out for: 
    • Damp or musty odours inside the vehicle and in the trunk.
    • Signs of rust and mud in the vents, trunk, glove box and beneath the seats and dashboard.
    • Rusty brackets under the seats or carpets.
    • Discoloured upholstery or carpet that fits poorly or doesn't match exactly.
    • A water line underneath the hood that has been marked by mud or silt.
  3. Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter and radio. Turn the heater and air conditioner on/off several times to make sure they work. Make sure that all gauges are in working condition.
  4. Get it inspected: Prior to purchasing a used vehicle, have it inspected by a trusted and certified mechanic. A technician specializing in electrical and electronic diagnosis should be consulted if you suspect the vehicle may have suffered flood damage. Find an inspection facility near you
  5. Research the vehicle's history: Companies such as CarProof and Carfax offer history reports on vehicles from the U.S. CarProof has set up a free online tool that searches its database to look for flood titles and storm area registration and can tell you if a vehicle has ever sustained water damage in the U.S.
  6. Ask for the vehicle's U.S. registration: Note that the registration will only indicate flood damage if the seller’s insurance company officially declared the car to have been salvaged.
  7. For more essential information on importing a vehicle, contact Transport Canada’s registrar of imported vehicles at 1-888-848-8240.

(Source: Insurance Corporation of British Columbia)