Flood Advice for Used Car Buyers
Once a car has been in a flood, damage should be easy to spot, right?
Not necessarily. Many unsuspecting car buyers have been duped into buying vehicles that have sustained significant flood damage. In the aftermath of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, a large number of water-damaged cars appear on the used car market. This trend also occurs in areas susceptible to flash floods, seasonal ice melt, and river overflow.
When a vehicle is submerged in water, insurance companies usually determine that it is totaled. In these cases, the car receives a salvage title that is clearly marked as a “salvage” or “flood” title. In most states, cars with salvage titles are sold at auction to companies and individuals who rebuild vehicles or operate junkyards. This is a perfectly legal process. Problems arise, however, when these vehicles are purchased and then resold to the public without a full disclosure of the salvage title.
Unscrupulous resellers acquire these flood cars, conceal the damage, and ship them to other states, where the vehicles are sold as used cars. In the vast majority of cases, new owners encounter a host of problems, including issues with electronics, mechanical systems, lubricants, and air bag controllers.
Although used car purchasers can request a vehicle history report, such as a CARFAX report, these reports are not foolproof and may not necessarily include a comprehensive history of a car’s past.
Inspect Before You Buy: Signs of a Flood Damaged Car
Water damage is easier to find if you know what to look for and where to look.
Check the vehicle’s carpets to determine if they are damp or abnormally muddy. A strong mildew smell can also indicate water damage.
Although it is somewhat difficult to detect, signs that the seat-mount screws have been removed is a possible sign of water damage. The carpets can only be thoroughly dried if the seats are completely removed. Due to the difficulty and hassle of removing seats, this is rarely done as part of normal maintenance.
It is generally quite costly to replace a car’s headlights and taillights. Consumers might be able to detect a water line on lights that have been waterlogged in the past.
Check for water lines inside the engine compartment. This is also an easy place for sticks, clumps of mud, and other flood debris to accumulate.
Most vehicles have rubber drain plus along the bottoms of their doors and underneath the body. If these have been recently removed, they may have been pulled out to allow water to drain.
Hard to Reach Places
Although most used cars are not gleamingly spotless, vehicles that have been water damaged will usually have telltale accumulations of dirt and debris in places a buyer would not ordinarily look. Look between and underneath seats. Check the creases in between seats and around the edges of carpets and doors.
If you are considering buying a used car, the safest bet is to have it inspected by a qualified mechanic knowledgeable about water damaged vehicles. With a good once-over by a professional, you can rest easy knowing your purchase is sound.