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.