How to Spot a Flood-Damaged Car
Many car shoppers are unaware of the extent of damage that floodwaters can cause to a vehicle. This poses a problem not only for the owners of cars that have fallen victim to catastrophic floods but also for potential buyers who are unaware of the vehicle’s history. The risk of flooded vehicles on the market affects everyone in search of a used car, regardless of their location. In the aftermath of hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy, flooded cars have been found for sale across the country. It is likely that the same will happen following the flooding caused by Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas.
Protecting oneself from unscrupulous dealers who may be selling flood-damaged cars requires educating oneself on how to identify the tell-tale signs of flood damage. This article will provide you with guidance on what to look out for when inspecting a used car for flood damage.
Run the Numbers
Checking the vehicle’s history is an essential step when searching for signs of flood damage. Running the vehicle identification number (VIN) through services like Carfax can reveal if a car has been in a flood. Carfax can provide this information for free, and if you receive a positive result indicating flood damage, it is best to avoid purchasing that car.
However, it is important to note that not all flood-damaged cars may be marked by Carfax. While dealers are required to disclose flood damage, there are loopholes that allow some cars to slip through the system. For instance, if a car was insured during the flood, the damage would likely be reported. Yet, if the repairs were undertaken without involvement from the insurance company, the requisite reporting may be skipped.
If you are considering a newer model, it may also be worth contacting the dealership to inquire about the vehicle’s service records. Most automakers link service records between dealerships, and while the privacy of previous owners prevents dealers from sharing personal details, these records may indicate signs of flood damage or repair.
Check the Electrical System
Inspecting the electrical system is crucial to identifying potential flood damage. It is important to check not only the battery terminal but also all the wiring and electrical components in the car. Do not rely solely on corrosion on the battery terminal as an indicator, as this can occur even in non-flooded cars. Look for corrosion on other wiring in the vehicle, as this can serve as a red flag.
In addition to checking for physical signs of corrosion, it is essential to test each electrical system in the car. Start with basic components like the radio, turn signals, and windshield wipers. While condensation in the headlights is not a definite sign of flood damage, it is worth noting as you inspect the vehicle.
Keep in mind that electrical problems caused by floods may not manifest immediately or consistently. For example, a faulty brake light may only become apparent under specific circumstances. While it is a positive sign if every electrical item in the car functions properly, it is not conclusive evidence of the absence of flood damage.
Inspect the Body for Rust
While some cars may have minor rust in a few locations, significant rust in certain areas can indicate flood damage. Inspect the underside of the hood, inside the doors, and in the trunk for signs of rust. If possible, lift part of the interior carpet to check for rust on the floor or on the bolts holding the seats down. Rust in any of these areas is cause for concern.
Look for Sand and Dirt in Unusual Places
Gathered sand and dirt in unexpected areas can be a strong indication that a car has been exposed to floodwaters. Check inside the wheel wells for this accumulation, which can resemble a dirt ring in a bathtub. Repeat the same examination with the exhaust underneath the car.
If you can, reach underneath the car to inspect the suspension for sand. It is also important to investigate areas where water may have pooled, such as the spare tire well in the trunk or under the seats.
Be Suspicious of an Interior that’s Too Clean
While it is obvious that a wet interior is a problem, a suspiciously clean interior can also be a sign of flood damage repair. Pay attention to any recent reupholstering, such as new headliners, carpets, or seat covers, as they could indicate attempts to hide flood damage.
Go for a Test Drive
If everything appears to be in order during your inspection, it is crucial to take the car for a test drive. Listen for any abnormal noises, such as grinding sounds from the brakes or steering, or squeaks over bumps. Although these noises alone may not confirm flood damage, multiple noises from various parts of the car can be cause for concern.
Gradually move on to checking more advanced features, like the anti-lock braking system. The functionality of this system relies on sensors, and if their wires are corroded due to flood damage, the system may not work properly. During the test drive, pay attention to whether the brake pedal pulsates against your foot during an “emergency stop” when you apply firm pressure.
If in Doubt, Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection
Consider investing in a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) if you have any doubts about the car’s condition. Most mechanics or dealerships offer this service for a modest fee. A professional mechanic can inspect the car thoroughly, front to back, using specialized equipment and their expertise. Their trained eye can spot potential problems that may go unnoticed by the average person. The peace of mind obtained from a PPI is well worth the inspection fee.
If possible, seek out a specialist who works exclusively on the brand or similar models of the car you are interested in purchasing. Their specialized knowledge can help identify any specific issues associated with flood damage.
Spotting a flood-damaged car requires careful inspection and attention to detail. Educate yourself on the signs of flood damage, run the vehicle’s history check, inspect the electrical system, body, and interior, and make sure to take the car for a test drive. If unsure, consider getting a professional pre-purchase inspection. By following these steps, you can protect yourself from unknowingly purchasing a flood-damaged car and ensure a safer and more reliable purchase.