Whenever storms surge across the country, you can count on flood damaged cars pouring into the used car market. Certainly car shoppers within a couple hundred miles should be on the lookout for water damage, but savvy dealers and resellers often move flood drenched autos into states and areas where rains and flooding did not occur. Frequently cars will be auctioned and sold through unaffected states where they can be retitled before foisting them on unsuspecting buyers who may not even think about water damage. When shopping for a car, be smart and look for these tell-tale signs of flood damage.
- LIFT CARPETS AND FLOOR MATS
Resellers usually clean and scrub flood damaged cars before selling them, but as the carpets and floor mats dry they often leave behind mud or rust deposits. Lift any carpets and floor mats and look for stains, rust spots or mineral deposits. Also, if the carpet boards are warped, flood damage is usually the culprit.
- DEBRIS IN TRUNK AND ENGINE COMPARTMENT
Like the floor mats, reseller will clean the trunk and engine compartment, but check the corners and compartments within each for mud, sticks or debris.
- THE SMELL TEST
Does the car have a musty smell? That is an obvious warning sign, but a heavy aroma of cleaners or Lysol is also a telltale sign that someone’s trying to cover up a mold or odor problem. Also, turn the air vents on to see what smells come from within the ventilation system. While it may be possible to remove musty smells from the interior of the car by cleaning or reupholstering, it is much harder to clean the car’s ventilation system.
- STRAIGHT-LINE STAINS
Many used cars have spills and stains, but they usually result from a sloshed drink or dropped sippy-cup. The resulting stain looks like an irregularly shaped puddle. Floods, on the other hand, tend to leave straight-line stains due to standing water. If you see a straight-line stain, there is a good chance that the car was submerged.
- TEST THE SEATBELTS
Pull on the seat belts. If they grind or stick there may be mud or sand in the mechanism. Even if there is no flood damage, you want to avoid cars with possible seatbelts defects.
- LOOK UNDER THE SEATS
Again, check the carpet under the seat and give it a sniff, but also look at the seat rails. If you spot rust, there are few explanations beyond flood damage. Rust will usually not appear here unless the car has been submerged.
- RUSTY SCREWS
Check for rust on exposed screw heads under the hood, in the door frame and in the trunk. Rusty screw heads usually mean exposure to excessive moisture.
- PULL A VIN HISTORY REPORT
While flood or wreck damage will not always show up on a VIN History report, such as CarFax or AutoCheck, they often will let you know where the car has titled in the past. If it was titled in an area during a time when flooding occurred, be alert.
In the end, keep in mind that resellers are often very good at hiding flood damage. A professional will clean and fix many of the issues mentioned above, and sometimes will even replace the seats and carpet. The damage to a submerged car goes much deeper than these cosmetics, however, as the frame or structure may be compromised and the car may not be mechanically sound. If you even suspect the car you are looking at is flood damaged, walk away. You don’t want to buy a cheap car only to spend your life savings fixing it. There is always another car lot down the road.
If you think you purchased a flood damaged car and are not sure what to do. Feel free to contact Chuck Marshall of the Marshall Law Firm for a free consultation at (925) 575-7105, or submit your case for review at http://www.marshall-law-firm.com/describe-your-case.