How to Spot a Flood-Damaged Car
In some cases, flood damage might not show up on a vehicle history report. If the owners of the flooded vehicle didn't have comprehensive insurance coverage, they wouldn't have been able to file a claim, and so the car's flood damage isn't indicated on the title. The owners just sold the car, and now it's worked its way back onto the market. In the absence of a history report, you might have to rely on some clues to flood damage. They include:
1. Unusual odors inside the car. Musty or moldy odors inside the car are a sign of mildew buildup from prolonged exposure to water. The mildew might be in an area the seller is unable to completely clean. Beware of a strong smell of air freshener or cleaning solution. It may indicate the seller is trying to cover up something. Run the air conditioner to see if a moldy smell comes from the vents.
2. Discolored carpeting. Large stains or differences in color between lower and upper upholstery sections may indicate that water stood in the vehicle. A used car with brand-new upholstery is also a warning sign. The seller might have tried to remove the flood-damaged upholstery altogether.
3. Exterior signs of water buildup. Signs may include fogging inside headlamps or taillights and damp or muddy areas where water naturally pools, such as overhangs inside the wheelwell. A water line might be noticeable in the engine compartment or the trunk, indicating that the car sat in standing water.
4. Rust and flaking on the undercarriage. You would not usually find either on a newer vehicle.
5. Dirt buildup in unusual areas. These include areas around the seat tracks or the upper carpeting under the glove compartment. Have an independent mechanic look for caked mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
If you suspect a local car dealer is committing fraud by passing off a flood-damaged car or a salvaged vehicle as an undamaged used vehicle, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that you contact your auto insurance company, local law enforcement agency or the National Insurance Crime Bureau at 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422).
Of course, the best advice when trying to avoid a flood-damaged vehicle is the adage you've heard so often: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.