A flood damaged vehicle should never be resold. While most are retired to salvage yards, there are some that are cleaned up and place back on the used car market by unscrupulous sellers. The problem with flood damage is that it's hard to spot, and even harder to prove, meaning you need to be a savvy consumer with a good eye.
According to CARFAX, a service that provides vehicle history reports for consumers, almost half of the vehicles damaged in the Hurricane Floyd floods of 1999 wound up back on the resale market.
Dishonest sellers pick up these cars, move them to states with less stringent reporting laws, pump out the water, shampoo the carpets, throw on a new coat of paint and then resell these damaged vehicles at a profit.
To protect yourself against purchasing a car that's been damaged in a flood and save yourself thousands of wasted dollars, keep reading for 5 hot tips.
1. Look and Smell for Mildew and Stains
Mildew is a hard smell to mask, and if the car was immersed in water for a few days, it becomes even more difficult to hide. Keep your eyes and nose open for mildew or sand and silt under the carpets. Check behind the dashboard, under the trunk lining, below the spare tire, the headliner cloth and watch for any water stains or suspicious marks.
2. Have the Car Inspected
Unless you're buying a vehicle that comes with a warranty and certification direct from the manufacturer, you should always have the vehicle inspected by a third-party mechanic.
3. Obtain a Vehicle History Report
Many states require cars that were severely damaged in a flood to be reported by insurance and the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) recorded. By using a car history report service like CARFAX you can often find this information quickly and easily.
4. Do the Accessories Fit the Car?
If the stereo, tires, floor mats and upholstery all seem too new for the car and the seller hasn't made any comments about replacing those components, you could be dealing with a flood car. Often, these items are replaced in a hurry to jazz up the vehicle.
5. Look for Oxidation
Check under the hood for any signs of rust or oxidation. With the car off, check all the battery and electrical connections. Iron or ferrous metals will show rust, copper will turn green and any aluminum or alloys turn a shade of white and powdery when rusting.
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