Here's how not to inadvertently buy a flood-damaged car from Harvey or Irma

Thursday, September 14, 2017 06:12PM
Part of the cleanup in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida involves lots of flood-damaged vehicles.


Part of the cleanup in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida involves lots of flood-damaged vehicles.

"Seven to 800,000 cars. I'd be surprised if it were less than that," said Matt Jones, senior advice editor for Edmunds.com, discussing the potential total of submerged cars being pulled out of flooded parts of the two hurricane-affected areas.

It's almost a sure bet that some flood-damaged cars will soon be on the market, and unfortunately purchased, by unsuspecting buyers.

Jones demonstrated how to inspect a car for water damage, beginning with the interior.

"I start looking for stain lines: straight lines across the interior that might suggest this car was submerged in water up to that point," he said

But it's not just cosmetics. In fact, some mildew would be the least of your concerns in owning a flooded car.

"Depending on how much of the car was submerged, your anti-lock brakes might not work. Your airbags might not work. Your seats may not adjust. You might have a lot of electrical problems that you're not aware of until it's time for them to actually do their job," said Jones.

Corrosion is a slow process. Fragile electronic components can be fine at first, but give expensive trouble later on, possibly months or years down the road.

Jones said one of the best places to check a car for flood damage is at the back in the cargo area.

Whether it's a sedan, an SUV or a minivan, you want to go back there, open up access covers to places like the spare tire compartment, and really start digging around thoroughly.

Specifically, check the area around the spare tire and even the spare tire itself. Also look for surface rust on the lug holes of the spare wheel, and on things like the hold-down hardware that keeps the spare in its place.

If you're in doubt about any particular car, spend the money to have a qualified mechanic give it a once-over. Reputable dealers and honest private sellers will have no problem with this. If they do, there are lots of other cars out there.

You should also run a vehicle's VIN through sites like Carfax and AutoCheck, though there will often be fees to do this. But like hiring a mechanic for an inspection, it could be money well spent.
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