Buyer beware as water-damaged vehicles flood the market

September 12, 2017

Heavy rain and flooding caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has resulted in damage to hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks in the southern region of the United States.

Washington residents should exercise caution when shopping for used vehicles in coming months. Water-damaged vehicles are expected to be cycled back onto the national market at auto auctions and used car dealerships.

Water damage is not always obvious at first glance and significant mechanical, safety and health risks can go undetected.

Knowing how to identify signs of a flood damaged vehicle can help you avoid serious safety hazards and monetary loss down the line.

Floodwater causes rust and damages major mechanical parts and safety systems such as the engine, transmission, air bags and antilock brakes. Electrical systems are especially susceptible to water damage, because onboard computers are often located in low points of the vehicle.

How to avoid purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle:

  • Have a pre-purchase inspection completed by a trusted mechanic.
  • Look at the title to check date and location of transfer, if the car came from a flood impacted area and if the title is stamped “salvage.” Ask the seller if the car has been damaged by floodwater and request proof in writing on the bill of sale.
  • Use an online vehicle history tracking service to investigate the vehicle’s past. Examples: NICB, AutoCheck, Carfax
  • Check gauges on the dashboard for accuracy and visible signs of water damage.
  • Test lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner multiple times. Flex the wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack – wet wires will become brittle as they dry and can fail without warning.
  • Check trunk, glove compartment and under seats for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
  • Look for upholstery and carpeting that is discolored, fits too loosely or does not match the original interior.
  • Check for a well-defined water line and musty odors resulting from mildew.

For additional information on flood-damaged vehicles and how to spot them, visit this link.


“Flood cars” imported to Washington risk public safety

November 12, 2015

OLYMPIA—Expect the impact of killer floods in Texas and king tides in South Carolina to spread beyond those regional economies as thousands of flood damaged vehicles find their way into other states, including Washington.

While it’s not necessarily illegal to sell a salvaged “flood car,” some sellers are unaware of the vehicle’s true history or wouldn’t disclose it if they did. So, it’s up to the consumer to be vigilant when car shopping.

The first step every consumer should take when they find a vehicle is to check its identification number (VIN). The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck service is free, but may not be as comprehensive as a service like Carfax. And, neither is a defense against purchasing an unreported flood car or one with an altered title.

Flood damage can be hard to spot on a vehicle that has been pulled from floodwaters and thoroughly cleaned. They look like any other vehicle, but are a significant risk to public safety because of compromised electronic and mechanical systems.

Dirty floodwater causes rust and damages major mechanical parts and onboard computers that are often located under seats or in other low points in vehicles.

These tips can help to spot potential flood-damaged vehicles:

  • Before buying any used car, always get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. The extra cost may save money in the long run if major problems are discovered.
  • Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped “salvage.
  • Use an online vehicle history tracking service like Carfax.com to get more information about a vehicle’s past.
  • Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and to look for signs of water.
  • Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.
  • Check the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
  • Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.
  • Check for a well-defined line, or watermark, and for musty odors resulting from mildew.
  • If the car’s history seems suspicious, ask the seller if the car has been damaged by floodwater. Get the answer in writing on the bill of sale.

The playlist below features two videos that address how to identify possible signs of a flood damaged vehicle.


Consumers should watch for flood-damaged vehicles

November 20, 2012
 
Thousands of vehicles damaged by the recent hurricane-related flooding on the east coast may find their way into the garages of unsuspecting consumers all across the nation in coming months.
 
While it is not yet known exactly how many vehicles were damaged or destroyed by the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy, the number is expected to be very high. Many of these vehicles are expected to move from state to state as they are cleaned up and offered for sale at auto auctions, used car dealerships, and even by private parties. 
 
After being cleaned up, these vehicles may look like any other vehicle. However, there are significant mechanical, safety and health risks associated with flood-damaged vehicles.
 
Due to the high number of vehicles suffering damage, it is possible some of them will enter Washington and be offered for sale here, Department of Licensing Director Alan Haight said. And because dealers may not be aware of a vehicle’s past, consumers must protect themselves, he added.
 
“When purchasing a used car, consumers should always carefully examine and test drive a vehicle,” Haight said. “They also should have it inspected by a mechanic they trust and avoid any seller who refuses to allow an independent inspection.”
 
Dirty floodwater can cause rust and damage major mechanical parts like engines and transmissions. The water also damages electrical systems especially onboard computers that are often located at low points in vehicles, like under seats. Salt water is particularly damaging to the sensitive electronics in modern vehicles.
 
These tips can help to spot potential flood-damaged vehicles:
 
  • Before buying any used car, always get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. The extra cost may save money in the long run if major problems are discovered.
  • Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped “salvage.”
  • Use an online vehicle history tracking service like Carfax.com to get more information about a vehicle’s past.
  • Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and to look for signs of water.
  • Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.
  • Check the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
  • Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color.
  • Check for a well-defined line, or watermark, and for musty odors resulting from mildew.
  • If the car’s history seems suspicious, ask the seller if the car has been damaged by floodwater. Get the answer in writing on the bill of sale.