In addition to the tens of thousands of homes that were damaged or destroyed by the effects of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, even more vehicles were damaged by the flood waters.
An estimated 500,000 cars were damaged in Hurricane Katrina. Cars that are classified as totaled should be disposed of, but some flooded vehicles inevitably end up in the used car market, and Earl Stewart Toyota wants consumers to know what to look for so they don’t become unintentional victims.
“A car can look fine and seem to run well, but there are tell-tale signs that consumers can look for to tell if a used vehicle has flood damage,” said Earl Stewart, owner of Earl Stewart Toyota. “Not only are these cars a waste of money, they can also be dangerous if systems end up failing due to flood damage.”
Stewart offered these tips for spotting a flood-damaged vehicle:
• Check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) against the National Insurance Crime Bureau database. This will tell you if the vehicle has been declared a salvaged vehicle, damaged beyond repair. VINs are usually located on the bottom of the driver’s side of the windshield.
• Use your sense of smell and touch. Flood-damaged cars develop mold and mildew issues, which can be detected with a simple sniff test. If the vehicle smells musty or has a strong scent of air freshener, it could be a sign of mold and mildew due to water damage. In addition to smell, use your sense of touch to find any areas of collected moisture in the vehicle. Points to check for moisture include on and underneath the carpet, in and around the spare tire area, and look for any signs of rust or corrosion on the body or engine. Areas to check for rust or corrosion include door hinges, screws, springs, under the dashboard and in the trunk latch, and on all four doors — anywhere moisture could have collected and led to rust or corrosion. Use a mirror to check the underbody of the car for any signs of rust or corrosion.
• The carpet and upholstery of a vehicle can also give clues to flood damage. Check closely for any signs of water stains. Or, if the carpet seems brand new, it may be a sign that it was replaced following a flood. Also, mismatching upholstery and carpeting may be sign that one or both has been repaired or replaced due to flood damage.
• A life-threatening impact due to flood damage is a vehicle with a damaged electrical system due to water damage. A close inspection of all electrical components is necessary to ensure that all are operating effectively. If electrical wires under the dash are brittle, this can indicate water damage. Test drive the car to make sure all electrical components are operational, including the back-up lights and camera, turn signals and emergency blinkers. Headlights and taillights can look foggy if they have moisture inside due to water exposure. Also check the air conditioning and wipers to make sure they work.
• Flood-damaged cars collect debris as they sit in the water, so look for any mud or grass or other debris inside the engine crevices, glove compartment, trunk, under the dashboard, around and underneath the spare tire, and any other nook or cranny that a car cleaner could have missed.
Stewart noted that if a consumer is unsure of their own ability to detect flood damage, they can take a used car they are considering buying to a trusted mechanic who can look for tell-tale signs of flood damage.
“The most important thing is to investigate the car thoroughly before you buy it,” he said. “Once you buy it, the problem is yours, and it is a very costly and dangerous mistake to be the owner of a flood-damaged vehicle.”