12/03/2012 16:07 EST | Updated 02/02/2013 05:12 EST

7 ways to avoid hurricane-damaged vehicles

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 theMotor 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."