Each year, cars across the U.S. suffer flooding damage ranging from mild to severe. Some of these autos inevitably end up on the open market.
So, buyer beware: The last thing you want is to end up with a water-logged ride.
Fortunately, learning the signs of flood damage — some are obvious and some are not at all — can help you avoid being suckered into buying a vehicle that appears fine but is actually at the end of the road. A flood-damaged car may look decent on the outside but could be rusting from the inside, setting a buyer up for major costly repairs.
How to spot a flood-damaged vehicle
To avoid purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle, have it examined by a trusted mechanic. For tips on that, check out “11 Keys to Finding a Car Mechanic You Can Trust.”
The next thing to do is order a vehicle identification number (VIN) check, according to DMV.org, a privately owned website not affiliated with any government entity.
Flood-damaged vehicles are supposed to be reported. If the vehicle you want is deemed flood-damaged, it should appear when you order a vehicle history report, also known as a VIN check or VIN report.
Another precaution is to check the status of the title, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
“A ‘salvage title’ means the car was declared a total loss by an insurance company because of a serious accident or some other problems. A ‘flood title’ means the car has damage from sitting in water deep enough to fill the engine compartment. The title status is part of a vehicle history report.”
There also are visible warning signs that might indicate the vehicle has been in a flood, says DMV.org. These include:
- Upholstery in a used vehicle that doesn’t match the carpeting.
- Rust in places like door hinges and trunk latches.
- Rust under the gas and brake pedals.
- Silt or mud under the seats or in the glove compartment.
- Wet floor carpeting.
- A musty or moldy smell inside the vehicle, or the smell of cleaning agents and car fresheners trying to mask the mold.
- Brittle wires underneath the dashboard, which could mean they have been wet and then dried out. Reach down there to make sure the wires are pliable.
- Malfunctioning electronics or accessories. Turn on the ignition and make sure all dashboard warning and accessories work properly. Test the air conditioning, heater, windshield wipers, radio and turn signals several times.
- VIN inconsistencies. Make sure the VIN on the dashboard matches the VIN on the door jamb.
Finally, if you see something fishy, say something.
“If a dealer fraudulently tries to sell you a flood-damaged car, they’re breaking the law. Report them,” says Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson.
If you suspect a dealer is knowingly selling a storm-damaged car or a salvaged vehicle as a good-condition used car, contact your auto insurance company or local law enforcement agency. Or, call the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). You’ll help someone else avoid a rip-off.
Do you have more tips for avoiding purchasing a water-damaged clunker? Share them below or on our Facebook page.