This year’s record flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers means tons of cars were flood damaged, and a lot of those water-logged cars will end up on used car lots – even hundreds of miles away. That’s because, even though insurance companies may label a flooded car as “totaled,” flooded cars are often sold through salvage auctions, and shipped to far-away dealers who clean them, get new DMV titles, and put them up for sale. The problem is, these cars usually have engine damage, and can easily catch fire because the electrical system is at high risk for shorting out and exploding! So, if you’re in the market for a used car – even if you don’t live anywhere near a flood region - here’s what to look for:
- The easiest sign to spot is flood residue – like dried mud, silt, or rust in the glove compartment, the trunk, or under the dashboard.
- Next, inspect the car’s upholstery and carpeting. If it appears to be loose, then it’s a surefire sign it’s been replaced. The seat stuffing could still be wet. If it smells musty, it may be mold. Or it may have been contaminated by sewer water - making it a toxic box on wheels. If it smells like flowers or pine, the dealer may have tried to mask the smell with deodorizers or by shampooing it out.
- Also, when looking for flood damage in a car, make sure every electrical component is operating properly. Start the engine, and check the gauges. For example, the oil, temperature, air bag, and brake lights should flick on and then off - like normal.
- Next, reach under the dashboard and gently try bending the wires. They should be flexible. If they feel brittle and crack, they’ve probably been exposed to water.
- One final way to avoid buying a flood car: Get a reputable mechanic to inspect it before you buy. You can also check the car’s VIN at the free database at CarFax.com/flood.