How to spot a flood-damaged car
Vehicles swamped by Hurricane Sandy will soon be arriving on used-car lots across the country.
This post comes from partner site Insure.com.
One consequence of any major flood is an onslaught of water-damaged cars appearing on the used-car market, as owners try to unload their vehicles onto unsuspecting buyers.
When a car gets caught in a flood, you might expect that once it dries out, it simply sputters to the salvage yard. Think again.
Sometimes flooded cars are totaled by an insurance company, sold through auto salvage auctions, shipped hundreds of miles away and cleaned up by dealers for resale.
You can avoid flood-damaged cars and the problems lurking beneath their hoods if you know what to look for.
What's that smell?
It doesn't take a trained nose to recognize a flood-damaged car. If the car doors have been closed and the car has been sitting out in the sun, the interior will have a strong musty odor. Bad odors are mainly due to moisture-laden carpet padding. Unless the carpet is removed and shampooed, the musty smell will never fully disappear.
However, not all flood cars reveal their true nature by aroma. Unscrupulous car dealers often mask water-damage smells with deodorants. If a car has a newly deodorized "fresh mountain air" scent, warning bells should sound in your head and you should look for other signs of water damage.
- Check all gauges on the dashboard to look for signs of moisture.
- Test all the dashboard switches and devices, including the lights, wipers, turn signals, radio, heater and cigarette lighter.
- Flex wires under the dashboard. If the wires crack, the vehicle likely has water damage.
- Check for signs of rust in the interior of the vehicle. Front-seat bolts tend to corrode quickly and they're very visible. Look for signs of rust in the trunk, especially at the lower part of the compartment near the tail lights.
- Check for water lines in the carpeting. Look closely at the kick panels in the front seat. Water and silt have a tendency to collect in those areas.
Problems down the road with flood cars
A flood-damaged car doesn't always reveal its shortcomings right away. Yet engine, transmission, wheel and brake damage can develop just weeks after you purchase the car.
If the car was totally submerged, it is wise to walk away from it. The vehicle could have been in sewer water, sandy water or relatively debris-free water. Regardless, if water seeped into the engine or transmission, problems are bound to crop up. For example, if the water carried sand into the engine, misfiring and blown gaskets could be just around the corner.
Additionally, submerged vehicles will often develop electrical problems.
There is also a chance you could get sick if you're driving a car that was submerged in sewer water. Unless your dealer removed the vehicle's carpet and padding and disinfected the interior, elevated bacteria levels are possible.
Can they all be bad?
Not all flood-damaged cars are pariahs. You can still get a quality car if it has been cleaned and restored properly. That process includes removing the vehicle's interior, including seats; removing the carpet padding and replacing it; disinfecting the car; changing the seat foam and shampooing the carpet; greasing all electrical connections; and replacing any corroded wires or components.
To ensure that a vehicle has been repaired properly, take it to a reputable mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. You don't want to buy a car that will drown you in bills.
Not all car insurance companies will sell you a policy on a flood-titled car, but some may offer to sell you a liability policy but no collision or comprehensive coverage.
If you're suspicious about whether a car you're thinking about buying has indeed been in a flood, you can pay for a vehicle history from services such as CarFax.com. You can also try the free National Motor Vehicle Title Information System and VINCheck from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Keep in mind that the car's title will show that it's been in a flood only if it was officially totaled by an auto insurance company.
More from Insure.com and MSN Money:
Not all flood-damaged cars are pariahs. You can still get a quality car if it has been cleaned and restored properly. That process includes removing the vehicle's interior, including seats; removing the carpet padding and replacing it; disinfecting the car; changing the seat foam and shampooing the carpet; greasing all electrical connections; and replacing any corroded wires or components. End quote.
No mention is made of water intrusion into the myriad of electrical components such as computers, window and seat motors, air bag sensors, etc. These failures will show up sooner or later, good luck staying ahead of the repairs.
If you have any indiacation of water intrusion as high as the seats, walk, no, RUN away from the deal.
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