Caution: The Car You Want To Buy May Have Been Flooded

A car that has survived a flood can be a major repair waiting to happen. Water, particularly salt water, can have major effects on a car, depending on how deeply it was submerged and for how long. According to a new study, these cars are becoming more prevalent. The study, by vehicle history expert Carfax, found that the number of cars on the road with a reported history of flood damage rose 30 percent from 2013 to 2016, to a total of 271,000.

More than a third of these vehicles are in four states – Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida and Kentucky – though every state has some. The number has been rising as powerful storms have become more frequent. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that flooding is the most frequently-occurring natural disaster.

The effect of flooding on cars can be serious. Electrical, mechanical and safety systems can be damaged. Hidden rust and corrosion can cause the car to rot from the inside. Systems can fail without warning months or years after the flood.

There are several things car buyers can do to avoid becoming the owner of a flood-damaged car:

  • Order a flood-damage history on the car free of charge from Carfax at carfax.com/flood
  • Have a qualified mechanic inspect the car for all kinds of damage and wear
  • Check under the floor coverings in the cabin and trunk for mud or rust
  • Smell the undersides of the carpets for signs of mildew
  • Check the difficult-to-clean areas under the hood and in the trunk for mud and waterborne debris
  • Check the heads of exposed screws under the hood, around the doors and in the trunk for rust
  • Check the undersides of panels and brackets for mud and debris

If these tests indicate flood damage, pass on the vehicle regardless of how attractive the price may be. The long-term repair costs will eventually wipe out any savings on the purchase price. There are thousands of quality used cars on the market. Better to leave the water-damaged cars to the junk pile.

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