Watch out for Sandy flood cars

Just as happened following Katrina and Floyd, large numbers of cars who have weathered the floods, will be hitting the market all across the country and offered for sale. Don’t expect flood damage to be disclosed, either. Nor will it involve only pre-owned vehicles. Sandy flooded many brand new cars in dealer showrooms and car lots.

According to an NBC online news report, following previous floods, a number of seriously flood-damaged vehicles will wind up on used car lots and sold to unsuspecting consumers. The article goes on to say that as many as 600,000 vehicles were claimed by previous storms and many of them are still showing up for sale around the country.

Signs that a car may have flood damage:

  • Stains
  • Waterlines
  • Upholstery that does not match
  • Rust in unexpected places (such as seat tracks or fuse boxes)
  • Exposed wires
  • Sand in the trunk
  • Musty smell
  • Mildew

Once a car has been in a flood, with the engine sub-merged for any length of time, the car may not ever be the same. In some cases, complete repairs are possible, particularly if the damage has not reached the engine. Freshwater from flooded streams is less destructive than saltwater which may cause corrosion. Flooding, in general, may cause extensive damage.

Carl Sullivan, an experienced inspector with AiM, an inspection company based in California, states, “A car’s engine, electronics, fuel system, airbags and brakes are all extremely susceptible to flood water. It’s extremely important to find any water damage before you invest your money in a used car, and a professional inspection will find flood damage no matter how a seller tried to hide it.”  He offers the following tips to watch for:

  • water and condensation in the headlights or taillights could be a tip-off to flood-related problems
  • a musty odor in the vehicle, which may be from moldy carpeting or padding. If possible, pull up the carpeting to see how far water may have risen in the vehicle, and also if any moisture remains
  • mud in the seat belt tracks or seat belt tensioners
  • water in the spare tire well in a vehicle’s trunk
  • a sagging headliner, particularly on a late model vehicle
  • corrosion in the vehicle’s undercarriage, such as on brake fines or around the fuel tank

Electrical components are most vulnerable to damage by floodwaters. Foam, padding and insulation should also be checked for moisture damage. Moisture damage can develop into mold or mildew.

Because of the ready availability of all these potentially flood-damaged vehicles for sale out there, it is all the more crucial that a potential buyer obtain a pre-sale inspection from a reputable mechanic or inspection company (and get the report in writing!). For most people, a car is essential for transportation to work so make sure the car you buy is going to get you there and back. Buying a car is a big purchase; make sure you are getting what you pay for. Buyer Beware!