Umm, is this car too good to be true? If it is a flood damage car, it is. Most car shoppers don’t realize just how much damage floodwaters do to a vehicle. This can cause a problem—not just to the owner of a car in a catastrophic flood, but to a buyer unaware of the vehicle’s history.
The risk of flood damaged vehicles on the market affects everyone looking for a used car, and not just those in the immediate area of a flood. After Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, flooded cars came up for sale across the country. The best way to protect yourself is to learn how to spot the telltale signs of flood damage cars.
It sounds obvious you should check the vehicle’s history to look for repairs, but it’s an important step when buying a used car. Run the VIN (vehicle identification number) through Carfax, which will tell you, for free, if a car has been in a flood. If you get a positive result, you don’t want the car!
DON’T stop there if the car you’re looking at isn’t marked by Carfax! While dealers are required to disclose flood damage, there exist enough loopholes in the system, some cars will get listed for sale. For example, if a car was insured at the time the flood occurred, the damage would almost definitely be reported. However, if an attempt at repairing the car was done without the insurance company’s oversight, you don’t want the car!
Call the Dealership Service Department and ask about service records for the vehicle if it’s a newer model. Most automakers link service records between dealerships. You won’t learn anything about the previous owner, but you might learn something about the flood damage car.
Check everything from electrical wiring to how well each system works, including the power steering. Don’t use corrosion on a battery terminal as an indicator, this is a relatively common occurrence. Start with the basics, like the radio, the turn signals, and the windshield wipers. Condensation in the headlights isn’t a definite sign of water damage, but it’s one more point to remember as you look over the vehicle.
If you see corrosion forming on any of the wiring on the car, however, have a mechanic review. Many electrical problems caused by floods don’t reveal themselves immediately, or even consistently. A faulty brake light might only become apparent under specific circumstances.
Some cars may have minor rust in a few locations anyway. This is not a major warning sign of a flood damage car in and of itself. Look at the underside of the hood, inside the doors, and in the trunk. If you can, lift part of the interior carpet and look for rust on the floor, or on the bolts holding the seats down. Rust in any of these areas should concern you. Also, look for sand and dirt in places people don’t usually clean.
Look inside the wheel wells. If you can see sand and dirt gathered at a steady level, like a dirt ring in a filthy bathtub, you have a good reason to believe the car was sitting in flood waters. Do the same with the exhaust underneath the car. If you can, reach underneath the car and see if there’s sand on the suspension; anywhere water can pool, such as the spare tire well in the trunk, or under the seats.
If any part of the interior is wet, it’s a problem. Likewise, if you see mud or sand in the trunk, or on the carpet your job is done, and the car is likely a Junker. Even without mud, the cardboard lining to which the headliner is attached could warp if it’s submerged. Look for anything resembling an old textbook after a midnight coffee spill.
Many people consider a musky smell in the car to be another obvious sign, but modern detailing equipment can remove most odors. An odorless car doesn’t mean a thing.
Look for more delicate issues, like an interior that is almost too clean. If the car was recently reupholstered, a new headliner, carpet, or seat covers, it could be evidence of flood damage repair.
If everything checks out, it’s time to go for a test drive. Listen. A grinding noise from the brakes or steering, or a squeak over bumps might not be proof of a flood on its own, but if noises start coming from multiple places, it might be time to look for a different car.
Work your way up to checking more advanced things like the anti-lock braking system, which relies on sensors which won’t work if their wires are corroded. The brake pedal should pulse against your foot and prevent the wheels from skidding if you operate an “emergency stop” by pressing hard on the brake pedal.
A professional mechanic has access to lifts and can more easily check every nook and cranny of the car, front to back. They will also know how to spot potential problems much more easily than the average person. A good mechanic can look over the car in around an hour.
If you are in doubt call Mike at our Midtown Location, 402-551-6000. He can have our team inspect and advise you on the vehicle.
At Great Plains Auto Body shop Omaha and Council Bluffs, we’re committed to giving you an unmatched level of service. As a company that’s been family-owned and operated for more than 26 years, we’re dedicated to treating our customers as we would treat members of our own family. We’ll keep you informed throughout the entire repair process and make sure you’re satisfied when the job is complete. From estimating and detailing to collision repair and paint services, our ASE-certified mechanics and technicians make sure the job is done right and on time.