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The damage from Hurricane Ian is still being tallied, and rebuilding will take months, if not years. Part of the cleanup process involves removing all the flooded vehicles, but not all will end up in scrapyards. Cars that still look decent and can be cleaned up may end up on sale, and you could end up with a costly headache if you’re unprepared. Consumer Reports (CR) recently updated its guide on how to avoid buying a flooded car, so let’s take a look.
CR said many flood cars are repaired and resold thousands of miles away from their home markets. Carfax reported that there were almost 400,000 flooded vehicles on the roads last year, and that’s before Ian-flooded cars start showing up.
It’s best to avoid buying a flood car, even if it looks great and smells new inside. Water, especially salty sea water, corrodes metals and welds, dries out lubricants, and can absolutely destroy wiring and electronics. You may not see anything on a test drive, and problems can take years to develop, but stay away unless you’re intentionally looking for a flooded car.
Reviewing the Carfax and other documentation can help, but flood damage isn’t always reported if an unlicensed shop or mechanic carried out repairs. Plus, Carfax reports are not always complete and can miss large chunks of a vehicle’s history.
The best way to ensure your new ride isn’t hiding a nasty secret is to pay for a pre-purchase inspection by an independent mechanic. They can help identify underlying damage and have diagnostic tools to determine hidden problems with electronics and mechanical components.
It’s always good to be skeptical when car shopping, even if you think you can trust the person you’re buying from. Some people don’t know the details of what they’re selling and may be passing a poor vehicle along, even if they don’t know it. It’s illegal to sell a flood car without disclosing its past, and states have different laws about documentation, so do your homework to avoid buying something that will leave you stranded or worse.
All of that said, it’s not always possible to get a pre-purchase inspection, so you may have to go it alone. If you’re in this situation, there are some telltale signs that the car you’re looking at has been flooded:
- Sometimes you can see a water line or staining inside, especially if it has been sitting in water for a while. You may also find lines on the paint, inside door jambs, and in the trunk lining.
- Smell the upholstery and headliner if you can, trying to identify a stale or musty smell.
- Inspect seals, rubber components, and other soft materials. Once submerged for a period, these components can become brittle and damaged.
- Spend $25 and get an OBD-II vehicle scanner from Amazon. There aren’t any “flood” error codes in these systems, but you can identify hidden issues and understand the repair costs you’re signing up for.