How Can You Avoid Buying A Flood-Damaged Car?

There have been so many instances of major flooding across the country in recent years, and hundreds of thousands of cars have been damaged and declared a loss by their owners. Most of these vehicles are either scrapped or sold at very low prices. But some of these cars may have been cleaned up and put on the used car market without the seller disclosing that they were in a flood. So how can you be sure you don't buy one?

Never Assume it Isn't Flood-Damaged

Just because you live in an area where there has been no major flooding doesn't mean the vehicles are all safe. Many unscrupulous sellers will move cars from place to place in order to disguise the fact that they were in a flood.

New paint and interiors can disguise a flood-damaged vehicle fairly well, enough to trick many buyers.

What Might Be Wrong?

There are two major areas where flooded cars can have problems. Water damage to electrical and computer systems might not be obvious, and may take time to develop – this includes not only the windows and locks, but more important components that can actually be dangerous if they fail, like the airbag systems and the anti-lock brake sensors. Additionally, saltwater damage can quickly cause rust and corrosion in vehicles that can threaten the structural integrity.

Signs of Flood Damage

CarFAX, the website that provides accurate vehicle histories, cites some of the following as significant indicators of flood damage to a vehicle:

  1. New carpeting or upholstery which does not match the vehicle – ask why it has been replaced, and be suspicious of any unlikely excuses.

  2. Rust around the door handles, in the hood and trunk latches, under the dashboard

  3. Mud or debris in the engine, glove compartment or under the seats

  4. Mold growing inside the car in the fabric or carpeting

What to Examine

Drive the car and test all of the electronic functions – inner and outer lights, wipers, windows, signals, horn, air conditioning (yes, even in the winter), heating, and radio. Turn on and test absolutely everything to be sure it works.

Your best bet, when buying any used vehicle, is to get a certified mechanic, one who is not associated with the seller, to examine the vehicle. It might cost you some money but if it saves you from buying a badly-deficient car, it will be well worth it in the long run.

Check out The Vehicle History

You can also check with several sites that provide free or low-rate car histories based on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). These histories will disclose if the vehicle has been reported as flood-damaged to an insurance company like Appomattox Insurance & Financial Services Inc.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reported 233,000 claims for flood-damaged cars after Hurricane Sandy. You can imagine that after the recent storms that have flooded vast parts of the Midwest, there are many more flood-damaged cars that will be hitting the used-car lots soon.