Spring flooding is an annual occurrence in many parts of the country. Whether caused by excessive rainfall, storm surges or the runoff from large volumes of melting snow and ice, the result is the same – thousands of cars wholly or partially submerged in flooded streets and parking lots. For the person planning to purchase a used car, the sight of all these flood-damaged vehicles can be particularly stunning as you wonder if any of them could make their way onto the pre-owned vehicle market in your area. If you are interested in purchasing a used car and want to make sure that you are not buying one with a history of flood damage the following information will help.
How will flooding damage a vehicle?
While most people realize that flooding can damage a vehicle, they may not realize just how extensive the damage can be. In fact, a vehicle that has been flooded will have some or all of the following types of damage:
- soft surface damage, such as carpeting, upholstery and interior panels that are stained, misshapen or seem moldy or odorous
- moisture and corrosive damage to the instrumentation panel, circuitry, speakers, on board computers, lighting, and power window and locking systems
- internal damage to major components, such as the engine and transmission due to moisture and corrosion
When car shopping, what are some visible signs of flood damage to watch for?
In addition to being wary of cars that seem to be priced far below their fair market value, there are some signs that car shoppers can look for to help protect them from purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle, including:
- an odor of mold or mildew or excessive use of air fresheners or scented cleaning products that could be disguising these odors (helpful tip: sit inside the car with the windows up for a few moments to help detect this)
- dampness, discoloration or watermarks in the trunk and spare tire compartment (helpful tip: remove the spare tire and peel back carpeting in the trunk while inspecting the area thoroughly with a flashlight to be sure)
- signs of rust on the heads of exposed screws, on the springs underneath the seats, on hood and trunk latches, on door hinges or water marks or rust on the undercarriage (helpful tip: use a hand mirror and a flashlight to examine hard to reach areas or take a photo with your smart phone using the flash to illuminate areas that are difficult to see)
- carpeting or upholstery that appears to be newer than the vehicle (helpful tip: try to peel back the edge of the carpeting in an inconspicuous place to see if the padding underneath or the metal flooring shows signs of moisture, corrosion or mold)
What other measures can car shoppers use to avoid purchasing a flood-damaged car?
In addition to a thorough visual inspection using the tips given above, it is wise to try to obtain more information about any pre-owned vehicle you are interested in purchasing. Begin by carefully inspecting the vehicle's title. Titles that include notations or stamps such as "salvage" or "flood-damaged" have been damaged by flooding and should be avoided.
Since this type of title notation is not mandated by law in all states, and unscrupulous dealers can sometimes obtain clean titles by taking the cars to another state, you should always attempt to verify the car's background. This can be done by requesting a free VIN history report. This report will offer information on past involvement in accidents, any reported damage and ensure that the vehicle is not stolen. Even more importantly, it will also give you the zip code of the past owners, so that you can check to see if they resided in areas where flooding has been an issue.
Learn more about checking the history of a car by visiting websites like this one.