With the recent bout of hurricanes, several hundred thousand vehicles have been flooded and left with permanent water damage. About half of those flood-damaged vehicles will be resold to unknowing customers. Shopping for a used vehicle can already be stressful enough without having to worry about possibly buying a flood-damaged car. Sellers of used vehicles sometimes unknowingly acquire a flood-damaged car to resell, while others attempt to scam buyers into purchasing a vehicle they know has been flooded. Title washing is a process frequently used by shady salespeople to get around title laws and make the flood-damaged vehicle appear like there’s nothing wrong with it. Hurricane cars are often resold in areas that experienced no damage in order to fool prospective customers.
Not only are vehicles with flood damage likely to break down in the near future, they can also pose a serious hazard. While the vehicle may look and drive normally at first, over time water damage can cause corrosion that can negatively affect both mechanical and electrical components. Being aware of the various car flood damage symptoms can help you avoid buying a flood-damaged car. Here is a simple guide to help you spot a vehicle with flood damage.
Signs of a Flood-Damaged Car
- Bad Title Report: One thing to check before buying any used car is the vehicle history. A title report will mention if there is any reported flood damage to a vehicle. CARFAX offers a free Flood Check service that tells you if a vehicle has reported flood damage. All you need to do is enter the vehicle’s VIN number and an email address to get started. You can also request a title history report through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. Along with providing useful information to know before purchasing a vehicle, the report will also note if a car has water or flood damage. Another simple way to check if a certain car was declared as a salvage vehicle is through VinCheck, a free service provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Taking the time to check the vehicle’s history before you purchase a used car will save you from potentially buying a flood-damaged car. However, not all flooded cars have bad title reports due to title washing, so there are other signs of a flood-damaged car to keep in mind.
- Musty Smell: A flood-damaged car will more than likely smell musty or moldy. As water seeps into a vehicle, it will start to produce a stale odor that is difficult to remove. However, if it smells like powerful cleaning agents, that could also be a red flag that the seller is trying to cover something up. See what the car smells like with all the windows rolled up and the doors closed. If the musty smell gets worse when you turn on the air conditioning, there’s a possibility that the car has experienced flood or water damage.
- Damp or New Carpet: A damp carpet is never a good sign. Make sure to feel the carpet when perusing used cars and make sure nothing seems damp. Whether the seller says it was “freshly shampooed” or not, still take caution. Just like people will cover up a mildew smell with excessive air freshener, some salespeople will shampoo the carpets to trick you into thinking that you’re getting a nice, clean car. If the carpets are damp and you smell mold, those are two big warning signs that you should keep looking for a better vehicle. Sometimes water damage spots are even noticeable if you look closely. Other signs of a flood-damaged car are new carpet in an older vehicle or various carpet patches, which means the carpet had to be entirely replaced or just in a few places where damage may have occurred. Take the time to thoroughly investigate the vehicle to see if you spy any areas of wet carpet that might reveal the car was susceptible to flood damage.
- Underhood Issues: Car flood damage symptoms not only include a musty odor and damp carpets, but water damage also negatively affects engine components. With any potential vehicle purchase, you want to take a look under the hood to see what you’re working with. A water-damaged engine can make the transmission fluid murky and dilute the engine oil. Test driving the car is important so you can listen for any strange noises coming from under the hood. Modern-day vehicles with their complex computers contain even more electrical parts than ever before. That being said, water and electronics don’t mix very well. Flood-damaged cars can have a whole slew of both mechanical and electrical problems.
- Rust: One prominent indicator of a flood-damaged vehicle is rust and corrosion. Check underneath the seats for any rusty metal, as well as the undercarriage of the vehicle. Also make sure to inspect the door hinges, any metal hardware, and even the doors themselves. Corrosion is an issue that will continue long after the flood waters have receded, so it is an important step to take when looking for the signs of a flood-damaged car.
Those are five simple things to look for when browsing for a used vehicle to help you avoid buying a flood car. It’s a good idea to also keep an eye out for water lines in headlights where water may have been sitting. Look for silt or sand, which is usually evident in hard to reach crevices that aren’t able to be easily cleaned. By spending a little bit of time and effort looking for the signs of a flood-damaged car, you will surely save yourself the risk of buying an unreliable vehicle.