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The Car Coach: Buyer beware of buying cars with flood damage

Written By | Sep 28, 2020
Car, Flood Damage, The Car Coach

Cars with flood damage are something that most of us don’t think about. Unfortunately, despite being unsafe on the roads, there are over 1 million cars, trucks and SUV’s suffering from flood damage driving on America’s highways and byways.

Every time a hurricane or flood impacts an area of the country automobiles are damaged.

Sadly many are not destroyed by insurance companies despite the fact that these vehicles are not safe! Many are filled with eColi and mold from the sewage and water.  Saltwater does even more damage to vehicles.

What is unreal is how many different ways this affects us all.

Do these cars really get into the marketplace?

Oh yes, they do!  One insurance company recently settled a $40 million lawsuit when it was disclosed that the insurer had dumped almost 30,000 totaled cars at auction without bothering to have them retitled as salvage vehicles.  Many of the vehicles will be shredded into little metallic pieces.  However, others will end in auctions or sent to your state.  This is called washing titles.  Not all states print on the title what happened to that auto.

If in doubt, the car is from an area that was recently flooded, that smells just a little wet,  walk away from the deal!

Read More from The Car Coach – Lauren Fix

Tips to avoid buying flooded cars:

First, buy from reputable dealers. You can find great vehicles buying from private sellers but beware of “curbstoners” – people who sell numerous cars claiming to be private sellers and therefore avoid basic government oversight and no Lemon Law coverage.  Other tips include:

  • Avoid auctions – unless you are experienced with them.
  • Check to make sure the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) match on the door sticker and the dashboard tag.
  • Carefully inspect the inside of the car looking for watermarks on door panels, radiators, wheel wells, and seat cushions.
  • Look for rust on unusual places like door hinges, hood springs, under dash brackets, and trunk latches. If there are rear seats that fold into the floor, that is an excellent place to find evidence of water damage.
  • Look for water and moisture inside exterior lighting.
  • Beware of cars with new or mismatched upholstery. If the car has is a paper air filter, check it – if it has water stains the car has likely been flooded. One air-filter to look at is the inside air filter located behind the glove compartment.
  • Ask the seller if the vehicle has had flood damage – sounds simple, but answers like “not to the best of my knowledge” or “the previous owner didn’t tell me of any flood damage” are red flags. Get the answer in writing with the bill of sale.
  • Ask to see the title – if it is not stamped “flood” or “salvage”, get the car’s history through online sources to find out if this vehicle has come from a recently or previously flooded area of the country.
If you were fooled into buying on of these cars –
  • There is no warranty from the manufacturer due to water damage!
  • Many of these vehicles stop in the middle of the road unexpected this can cause other cars to collide with you!
  • If you are a part of an accident air bags may NOT deploy!
  • Seat belts don’t function properly!
  • Anti-lock brakes don’t work!

Cars that have been flooded are complete SCRAP! And you are now a part of a potential accident. Even worse, the health risk that you are creating for yourself and anyone that rides in this car, particularly when temperatures rise and bacteria thrive.

Only 10-15% of the cars are reported to these agencies, so have a certified ASE technician inspection the vehicle before you make an offer.

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Lauren Fix

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host. A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news and safety issues.