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Cars swamped in storm water might return to the market far from hurricane areas. Here’s what you should look for to avoid buying a flood damaged car.
It happens every year: heavy rain causes damage to cars of all kinds. Sadly, many consumers don’t know how to spot a flood damaged car. Don’t assume that all damaged or destroyed cars end up in junk yards every year when floods occur.
Water damaged cars that have been waterlogged for days or weeks—sometimes even months—are sometimes repaired and resold in other parts of the country where buyers are oblivions to the signs of car flood damage.
Carfax reports 378,000 flooded vehicles are back on the roads, and 212,000 cars may have been damaged by Hurricane Ida.
Not only does car water damage leave the upholstery smelling fishy, but it can also compromise an automobile’s airbags, brakes, starter motors, and electrical system—all of which can have potentially catastrophic consequences.
Pros and Cons of Buying a Flood-Damaged Car
Even if you don’t live in a traditional hurricane zone, you should be vigilant when buying a used car—especially from out of state. In fact, you should always be vigilant when buying any used car…
In the wake of major storms, many flood-damaged cars are transported to locations where consumers may be less aware of how to spot damage. Carfax reported that many flood damaged vehicles were sold in Indiana.
Now you may wonder why we say that you should avoid buying a flood damaged car, yet we speak of ‘pros’ in addition to the ‘cons’. Now you’re wondering…
Can a flood damaged car be repaired? Yes, it can indeed. If you know how to clean a car damaged by flood water. How much should I pay for a flood damaged car? What does it take to repair a flood damaged car? Well, that depends on the extent of the water damage.
Among the pros of buying a car damaged in a flood is the price. You can often find great deals at the flood damaged car auctions, provided it makes sense to pay for the flood damaged car repairs and cosmetic fixes to hide the signs of water damage.
Water damage may not be a deal breaker, but it can have potentially catastrophic repercussions. It is therefore important to have a clear idea of its extent before signing any contracts. That will certainly determine how much you pay for the vehicle. Armed with the appropriate information ahead of time, you can prevent potentially fatal mistakes.
Is this used car damaged by flood water?
That’s the first question to ask when the price seems too good to be true—and even if it’s not… You should ALWAYS inspect a car before you buy it.
So how do you spot the subtle hints of severe water damage?
You can spot a flood damaged car in it in the equipment, lubricants, and mechanical parts. In a few months or years, corrosion caused by car flood damage can affect the vehicle’s electronic components, including airbag controllers. Consumers should inspect used cars thoroughly before they buy them (or hire a mechanic to do it for them).
Some insurance companies often do not communicate to potential buyers that a flood-damaged vehicle is a total loss. The title of a flood damaged car is supposed to be changed to a salvage title once it’s totaled. The title usually clearly states “salvage” or “flood”. In some states, this warning is shown as an obscure number or letter code.
Auto wrecks are usually sold at salvage auctions to junkyards and vehicle rebuilders. Depending on how the flood damage is disclosed on the title, it may be legal to resell these cars to consumers. Salvage title cars can’t be registered until they are repaired and inspected by officials. Once that’s done, the vehicle gets a “rebuilt” title that lets it be registered to a consumer.
Consumer Reports found years ago that some flood-damaged cars with clean titles would reappear on the market. A flood damaged used car with a “lost” title or a bill of sale is especially risky.
PRO TIP: Selling a car in a flood-affected area? Even if it is in good condition, potential buyers might think that you’re selling a flood damaged car. Before you put the vehicle up for sale, have a mechanic look it over so you can give potential buyers peace of mind.
If you’re a buyer, then be sure to read this post about how you can avoid buying a “lemon” for a used car.
There are many ways to spot a flood damaged car. The following are some key things you need to consider before you buy that ‘too good to be true’ used vehicle:
1. The vehicle’s history
Make sure you do a full vehicle history check, which will help you find out whether the car is truly flooded-out. Ask the seller about any water damage too, because it’s something they might not have noticed when they put the car up for sale.
Consumers can run background checks through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, which provides consumer information about vehicles. In states with lax regulations, “title washing”, where cars that have been totaled (or stolen), receive clean titles, is cracked down on by this system.
A vehicle might not get a salvage or branded title if the owner didn’t have comprehensive insurance or a certain level of repair costs weren’t exceeded.
Carfax offers a free flood damaged car report in addition to its vehicle history reports. By checking the title and area history, and the registered address for the vehicle at the time, the “possibility of flood damage” can be determined.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau offers VINCheck, a free service that searches vehicle identification numbers, although it does not use as many sources as some paid services.
There is no guarantee that a vehicle has no problems, but vehicle history reports are a valuable tool for screening potential vehicles. A detailed inspection is ultimately the best protection for a consumer.
2. Check your lights
A car’s interior can be concealed relatively easily, but its electrical systems, which will exhibit signs of water damage in the wake of flooding, are much harder to mask.
Inspect the car’s lights, which may still have visible water lines suggesting flooding, before examining any electronic components, such as the windows, to ensure they work properly. There may be fog inside headlights or taillights, and muddy or damp areas around overhangs or inside wheel wells, for example. Water lines are often visible in the engine compartment or trunk indicating that the car sat in standing water.
When trapped water is present, the heating system may also create excess condensation. The moment your windows start fogging up, it’s time to ask those hard questions.
3. Check under the hood
You can find a lot of information about a car’s secrets under its hood, so make sure you check for any rust or corrosion. Excess rust elsewhere on the vehicle—particularly if it isn’t old—is also a key giveaway, so give the entire car a thorough once-over, and if you’re unsure of anything, consult a mechanic to advise you further.
4. Look for loose objects
The car might have parts that aren’t there you’d expect, which might be an indication that it hasn’t been serviced. If the seats have been removed to dry out carpets and there are no rubber drain plugs under the car, that’s a sure sign of water damage. If you spot any of these red flags, proceed with caution.
Check the seat-mounting screws to see whether there’s any evidence that they were removed. To dry the carpets effectively, the seats must be removed and possibly even replaced. Look at the heads of any unpainted, exposed screws under the dashboard. Bare metal will show signs of rust in flooded cars.
Make sure the rubber drain plugs under the car and on the bottom of the doors look like they’ve been ripped out recently. It might have been done to drain floodwater.
5. Touch and sniff
Checking the car’s interior for signs of water damage will likely reveal it, even if it’s subtle. You can revive upholstery up to a certain extent, but there will still be remnants of damp on carpets and seats. Check for any soggy spots or strange musty smells that could indicate your purchase might be a bad idea.
A big stain or difference in color between the lower and upper sections of upholstery might indicate standing water. New upholstery on a used car is another red flag. It could be that the seller tried to get rid of the flood damage.
6. Do some digging
Look for dirt and debris in difficult-to-clean places, such as between the panels in the trunk and under the hood. Areas that are commonly affected include the areas around the seat tracks and the upper carpeting under the glove box. A mechanic should check for caked mud or grit around wiring harnesses, in alternator crevices, and around starter motors, power steering pumps, and relays.
Usually, grime does not settle at the bottom edges of brackets or panels. Rust and flaking on the undercarriage should not be evident on a newer vehicle.
Know of a Flood Damaged Car Sold As New? It’s Probably FRAUD!
If you suspect that an auto dealer in your area is committing fraud by passing off flood-damaged or salvaged vehicles as undamaged ones, you should contact your auto insurance company, local law enforcement or the National Insurance Crime Bureau (800-835-6422).
Whenever possible, the best advice for avoiding flood-damaged vehicles is to remember the old adage: If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Remember that if you do find flood damage, you should consult with a mechanic before making any final decisions, and ask for proof that the car has been repaired. If you spot too many flood damage warning signs, walk away. Flood damage doesn’t always have to be a deal breaker, but it’s a good idea to learn the warning signs and walk away if necessary.
There are many ways to ship a vehicle, including towing it, or putting it on a car dolly. However, it is safest to use a car shipping company that specializes in shipping cars with salvage titles. In most cases, you will be able to choose from the following options:
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