Our country just got hit by two devastating hurricanes, one in Texas and then in Florida. Estimates put the number of damaged and totaled cars near a million. A significant number of those cars will be sold with no documentation of the damage. In northern states like here in Ohio, used cars often have rust, damage from heavy rains, and other things that make a flood vehicle blend in. Here are some tips to avoid getting scammed into buying a flood vehicle.
First of all, why is a flood damaged car such a bad thing? Cars are meant to get wet, right? Yes, they are, but cars aren’t submarines. They aren’t designed to be submersed in water, and so things like seals and electronics aren’t protected from being completely underwater. Rust and electrical problems are the biggest concerns. On top of that, salty sea water, grime, fish, trash, sewage, and all sorts of other things could have found there way into the car, creating health hazards.
First, Do Your Homework
Before you even consider looking the car over too heavily, ask to see the title. Many states require cars that have been in a flood to be marked as a flood vehicle. That said, if an insurance company never filed a claim on it, there may be no documentation. Get a Carfax or AutoCheck vehicle history report. If the car was registered/owned in say, Houston in September of 2017, or New Orleans in 2005, there is a good chance the car went through a hurricane. If the car has been a rental car, there’s no way to tell where it has been and what it went through. If the car is rusty, but is a Florida car, it likely has been in salt water at one time or another.
The Obvious Signs
If you open the door and water pours out and fish start flopping everywhere, it’s got flood damage. You probably won’t encounter that, but some obvious signs the car has been in a flood are wet carpet, seats, trunk, etc. Many flood cars may have been dried and cleaned, but will still have a musty/fishy odor, or have mildew, mold, and dirt that are easy to see. Pop the hood, look under seats and in door jambs for sand, mud, etc. If the car exhibits blatant signs of electrical problems, or you can hear sloshing sounds, walk away.
If the car seems a little too clean for it’s age, or smells strongly like cleaners and air fresheners, someone could be trying to hide the damage. If the carpet and seats are brand new, or it looks like the radio, window switches, or other electrical components have been recently replaced, it might be repairs done due to flood damage. Mismatched components, like perfect seats but a worn out steering wheel, can indicate someone has been replacing parts.
A good detailer and a crafty seller can hide a lot of flood damage. However, there are some ways for you to sniff out their tricks. The first is to check the spots they might have forgotten to clean, or don’t expect you to look. Lift up the door sill plates and look for signs of mud or water. While you’re there, lift the carpet up, shine a flashlight under the seats, and look for signs of sand, lines from water, unusual stains, mud, or debris. Check any labels or stickers for wrinkling from being wet.
Shine a flashlight up under the dash, between door panels and the metal, in door jambs, etc. and look for signs water has been sitting, or for mud, corrosion, dirt, etc. Look closely for mud and grime in the gaps where panels meet, or where mouldings attach to the body or interior. Most sellers won’t remove these to clean behind them. Check the trunk thoroughly, and pull back the carpets to check for water or signs water has been there. Pull back weatherstripping (gently) and check for signs water and debris have passed through.
On the outside of the car, pull back the plastic liners in the wheel wells and look for mud or water lodged in there. Get under the car and use a flashlight, and maybe a mirror, to look at the tops of components like mufflers and transmissions where water, mud, etc may have settled and escaped the car wash. If you can, remove the headlights/tail lights and check for anything that may have gotten lodged behind them.
Under the hood is where a lot of damage may be visible, but very few buyers will look for it. If the engine is abnormally dirty/muddy, or unreasonably clean, be wary. Use your flashlight to shine into nooks and crannies where the sheet metal is bent/welded, or engine mounts, etc. to see if any mud/fish/flood debris got lodged in there. Take a peak behind plastic covers Water can and will get anywhere, but most sellers won’t. Unplug a couple electrical connectors and check for moisture, dirt, corrosion, etc. that can indicate water damage. As well, if these plugs look like they have been recently cleaned, or have been treated with WD-40, it’s possible these were cleaned and treated to get rid of the water they were submersed in.
If you’ve ever changed license plates on a car, or removed a headlight, you know that dust gets behind these things and they are usually dirty. That is totally normal. If there is mud or other debris in these areas, good chance that came from flood or abuse. Go with your gut. If it doesn’t seem normal, it probably isn’t. When in doubt, bring it to us and we will perform a used car inspection on it and help you identify accident, flood, or other damage, and look for parts that have been removed or replaced.