Tips for spotting a flood-damaged car
Check all gauges on the dashboard to look for signs of
moisture. Test all the dashboard switches, including the
lights, wipers, turn signals, radio, heater, and cigarette
lighter. Flex wires under the dashboard. If the wires
crack, it likely has water damage.
Check for signs of rust in the interior of the vehicle.
Front-seat bolts tend to corrode quickly and they're very
visible. Look for signs of rust in the trunk, especially at
the lower part of the compartment near the tail lights.
Check for water lines in the carpeting. Look closely at
the kick panels in the front seat. Water and silt have a
tendency to collect in those areas.
With rampant flooding along the Mississippi, many homeowners
face total losses of their houses. Another consequence of any major
flood is an onslaught of flood-damaged cars that appear on the
used-car market, as car owners try to unload their flood-damaged
vehicles onto unsuspecting buyers.
Even if you don't live near a flooded area, you can expect
flood-damaged cars to make their way to your region.
When a car gets caught in a flood, you might expect that once it
dries out it simply sputters to the salvage yard. Think again.
Sometimes flooded cars are totaled by an
, sold through auto-salvage auctions, shipped hundreds of miles
away, and cleaned up by dealers for resale. Fortunately, you can
avoid flood cars and the myriad problems lurking beneath their
hoods - if you know what to look for.
It doesn't take a trained nose to recognize a flood-damaged car.
If the car doors have been closed and the car has been sitting out
in the sun, the interior will have a strong musty odor. Bad odors
are mainly due to moisture-laden carpet padding. Unless the carpet
is removed and shampooed, the musty smell will never fully
However, not all flood cars reveal their true nature by aroma.
Unscrupulous car dealers will mask water-damage smells with
deodorants and the scent of "fresh mountain air." If that's the
case, warning bells should sound in your head and you should look
for other signs of water damage.
Problems imminent with flood cars
A flood-damaged car doesn't always reveal its shortcomings right
away. Engine, transmission, and wheel and brake damage can develop
just weeks after you purchase your "new" car.
If the car was totally submerged, it is wise to walk away from
it. The vehicle could have been in sewer water, sandy water, or
relatively debris-free water. Regardless, if water seeped into the
engine or transmission, long-term problems are bound to crop up.
For example, if the water carried sand into the engine, misfiring
and blown gaskets could be just around the corner.
Additionally, submerged vehicles will often develop electrical
There is also a chance you could get sick if you're driving a
car that was submerged in sewer water. Unless your dealer removed
the vehicle's carpet and padding and disinfected the interior, high
bacteria levels are possible.
Can they all be bad?
Not all flood-damaged cars are pariahs. You can still get a
quality car if it has been cleaned and restored properly. That
includes: removing the vehicle's interior, including seats;
removing the carpet padding and replacing it; disinfecting the car;
changing the seat foam and shampooing the carpet; greasing all
electrical connections; and replacing any corroded wires or
However, you want to make sure that the vehicle has been
repaired properly. Take your car for a prepurchase inspection to a
reputable mechanic before buying a car that might drown you in
companies will sell you a policy on a flood-titled car, but some
may offer to sell you a liability policy but no collision or
If you're suspicious about whether or not a car you're thinking
about buying has indeed been in a flood, you can pay for a vehicle
history from services such as
.There's also the free
National Motor Vehicle Title Information System
and VINCheck from the National Insurance Crime Bureau
Keep in mind that the car's title will show that it's been in a
flood only if it was officially totaled by an auto insurance
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