SINCE there have been so many hurricanes and floods in recent years cleaning up flood-damaged cars and reselling them has become big business. Most of these cars are trucked across the country where they are given clean titles in other states and sold to unsuspecting customers.
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After Hurricane Katrina flood damaged cars showed up as far away as California, Arizona, and places in the Midwest. It is very easy to transport cars to a state that doesn’t report flood damage or require a salvage label on the title. There are currently 20 states that do not report either designation on the title.
Once a car has had flood damage any remaining warranty is voided. Electrical and mechanical components will probably fail early and mold and mildew can form, which is almost impossible to get rid of.
If a car is thoroughly scrubbed, it can be difficult to determine if it has flood damage. So you need to be diligent with your inspection to avoid buying a car that will have a multitude of problems and potentially cost you thousands of dollars in repairs – if it can be repaired. Here are some things to look for:
Exterior. There usually aren’t many exterior clues that a car has flood damage because the outside of a car is remarkably easy to clean. Moisture or silt around headlights and taillights or a brand new paint job on an older vehicle could be telltale signs.
Interior. A musty, mildew odor could be a sign of flood damage. Look closely at the carpets, seats, under the seats, and the glove box for unusual signs of silt or rust. Mismatched items or new items in an older car could mean those items were recently replaced. Also be sure to check for moisture or silt in dome lights or on the instrument panel.
Trunk. Many used car shoppers give the trunk a cursory glance. But if you are looking for possible flood damage, look for signs of water damage, silt, rust, or mismatched carpeting.
Engine bay and under the car. If the engine was submerged, you may see rust, silt, discoloration, or other visible damage to wiring or components. Look underneath the vehicle for large scale rust. Turn the engine on and listen to it. Finally, check all the engine fluids for signs of water or other contamination.
Check out the car’s functionality. Start the engine and test everything – lights, blinkers, wipers, AC, heater, radio, aux power jack, windows, defroster, etc. The electrical items and associated components are often the first to go after flood damage. After checking all of these, go for a drive. Pay attention to acceleration, the feel and sound of the idling engine, and the car’s power.
Take your car to a mechanic. A mechanic can do a much more thorough inspection than you can and should be able to give you an idea of whether or not a vehicle has been damaged by flood waters.
Get a CarFax report. A CarFax report can give you a lot of information about a vehicle’s history and it is worth taking a look at it. It won’t give you every bit of information about a car, but it can tell you a lot.