Buying a flood damaged car can lead to many problems. Here’s how to protect yourself
Consumer watchdogs are warning of flood damaged cars for sale in the wake of recent severe storms. Kane in your corner has some tips on how you can avoid getting caught for a ride.
Storms named as Henri and Ida brought unforgettable images of cars underwater or literally floating in the distance. The bad news – some of these cars will be on sale soon, if they haven’t already.
“This car was towed, it doesn’t drive, it went through water,” said mechanic Ed Paulmenn, who has worked on several cars damaged by the floods this year. He says the damage can be costly to repair and may not show up for months later.
“Water entering the body of the car can collect in the valleys and if there are any wire harnesses, switches or control units they are likely to have a problem,” says Paulmenn .
Cars severely damaged by flooding are allowed to be sold, but they must be marked as flood damaged on the title. Depending on the state, this branding may take the form of the letter “F” or the word “Flood”. But cars will only be marked if they are totaled by the insurance company, if the previous owner did not submit a claim, the title will not give any indication of potential damage.
Insurance industry sources also say Kane in your corner that if a car is sold before the flood claim is processed, especially if it is sold multiple times and title shifts from state to state, the flood mark may not follow it. They say consumers should be aware of the warning signs of flood damaged vehicles.
Paulmenn says condensation on the inside of a windshield is one of the surest signs of water infiltration. He cautions that it can be best seen early in the morning. Also beware of carpets that smell musty or smell too much of air freshener. Whenever possible, he recommends that buyers have their mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection.
“If you go under the car, you could see debris floating underneath and got caught – sticks, branches, you could see mud,” says Paulmenn. “If you have mud all under it, that’ll indicate water has risen up there.”
If you can do a more thorough inspection, Paulmenn recommends looking for mud behind the trim panels, but he cautions that many sellers won’t allow it.
A mechanic may also have the specialized equipment to spot things the buyer can’t, like a “check engine” light that was recently reset. This may indicate a recent repair or an attempt to cover up a problem.
Paulmenn also advises checking the vehicle history report for flood damage repairs, and simply for the geographic history of the car. “If they’re coming from far away and especially if they’re from an area known for flooding, I think you really, really have to be careful,” he says.