Flooding from Superstorm Sandy may be over on the East Coast, but car buyers in other parts of the country should brace themselves for different kind of flood. There is likely to be a flood of cars coming into the market that have been damaged or submerged in water and then cleaned up and offered for sale in other parts of the U.S.
Of course buyers in Colorado wouldn’t expect a vehicle for sale here to have sustained damage in an East Coast storm, but it’s smart to look out for them. Even though Colorado is a long way from the Gulf Coast, after Hurricane Katrina we got several flood-damaged cars. There are always unscrupulous people who try to turn a quick buck by shipping cars and trucks to other states and passing them off to unsuspecting buyers as “clean” used vehicles.
Water damages vehicles. Water entering an engine through the air uptake can cause lots of damage. Parts may begin rusting quickly when exposed to water. Transmission fluid and engine oil will be compromised when contaminated with dirty floodwater. Another problem is water seeping into the vehicle’s overflow valve or improperly sealed gas cap and mixing with fuel. Over time, it will cause rust in the fuel tank. Water flowing through the fuel system will also cause damage.
It’s prudent to have a vehicle checked out by a certified service technician if you suspect it may have sustained water damage. If you’re unsure – and it’s sometimes very hard to tell – there are some indications to look for. The National Automobile Dealers Association, an organization of America’s new car dealers, offers this list of 10 inspection tips to help detect flood damage:
- Check the vehicle’s title history by VIN through commercially available vehicle history reports like Carfax (www.carfax.com), Experian’s Auto Check (www.autocheck.com), or through the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VinCheck (https://www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck). The report may state whether a vehicle has sustained flood damage.
2. Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion.
3. Check for recently shampooed carpet.
4. Look under the floorboard carpet for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water not related to air-conditioning pan leaks.
5. Inspect for rusting on the inside of the car and under interior carpeting and visually inspect all interior upholstery and door panels for any evidence of fading.
6. Check under the dashboard for dried mud and residue, and note any evidence of mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk.
7. Check for rust on screws in the console or other areas where the water would normally not reach unless submerged.
8. Look for mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
9. Complete a detailed inspection of the electrical wiring system looking for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.
10. Inspect the undercarriage of other components for evidence of rust and flaking metal that would not normally be associated with late model vehicles.
Even without a superstorm to worry about, floods occur all over America, even in Colorado. There’s always someone trying to profit from them, sometimes dishonestly, so it pays to keep an eye out for water damage when buying any used car.
It’s also possible that you may experience a vehicle-damaging flood, so NADA also has some advice for you. “The amount of damage depends on how long a vehicle has been submerged and how deep,” according to NADA Chairman Bill Underriner. Be especially cautious if the carpets have been wet for very long. Moreover, it’s also dangerous to try to start a car that’s been severely damaged by water. “Starting a vehicle even in a damp condition could harm the driver and the onboard computers and wiring. A short in the electrical system can cause a shock, or worse, a fire,” Underriner said.
Don’t attempt to drive a water-damaged car before having it thoroughly check out by a certified service technician. That’s good advice in Colorado or anywhere.