Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, leaving in her wake a tsunami of catastrophic damage on the East Coast. Next in line for potential damage are used car buyers, who should be on the lookout for a wave of flood-damaged vehicles making their way onto the market. Unscrupulous dealers and owners will try to unload the vehicles on buyers, some of which have been totaled by insurance companies. The vehicles are superficially cleaned up, their damage masked in a variety of ways, until they’re sold to unsuspecting drivers. Within weeks, the new owners are faced with an array of problems, including engine, transmission, brake, suspension and electrical issues.
If flood water invaded the transmission or engine, chances are it brought sand, silt and other contaminants with it. Sooner or later, misfiring, blown gaskets, or a blown transmission are the likely results. The damage to a vehicle’s electrical system from flood damage can be extremely costly to diagnose and difficult to cure.
Massive flooding means sewers are overflowing and mixing with floodwaters. That means the vehicle may have been exposed to sewage, chemicals and other harmful contaminants. Elevated bacteria levels and chemicals in flood damaged cars can be a significant health threat to anyone driving or riding in them.
Buyers should avoid ending up with a flooded vehicle at all costs, even if the flood damage has been admitted to and purportedly rectified. That bargain vehicle that seems like a deal that’s too good to pass up, can turn out to be a lemon with a myriad of costly problems in the long run.
How can you tell if a vehicle has suffered flood damage? Here are some tips:
Use your nose. Even after they’ve dried out, flooded cars usually have a musty smell from sodden carpeting and padding. Be suspicious of a car that has a strong deodorant aroma. That ‘fresh pine’ or floral scent could be masking the smell of musty mold and mildew.
Carefully inspect the dashboard gauges and dials for signs of condensation, warping and other telltale moisture indications.
Make sure all gauges and equipment, including windshield wipers, turn signals, lights, emergency flashers, heater, air conditioner, radio and CD player, are working properly.
Check the wires beneath the dashboard. If they’re brittle and crack when you bend them slightly, they’ve probably been soaked.
Look for signs of water damage on seats, seatbelts and carpeting.
Inspect for rust and corrosion in the vehicle’s interior and trunk. Seat bolts, seatbelts, spare tire compartments and taillight wells tend to exhibit corrosion signs in flooded vehicles.
Look for sand and silt in the vehicle’s interior or trunk, especially in kick panels and wheel wells.
By taking the time to thoroughly inspect a vehicle before purchasing it, you can uncover telltale signs of flood damage that can save you tens of thousands of dollars and multiple headaches in the long run.