Buying & Leasing a Car

5 Signs You're Buying a Flood-Damaged Car

A used vehicle with a superlow price may have been submerged in the recent hurricanes.

If a used-car deal looks too good to be true, you should do more than kick the tires. The vehicle may be one of the estimated 500,000 flood-damaged cars that could hit the market after hurricanes Harvey and Irma (see Disaster Relief: Financial Recovery in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey).

Flood-damaged cars enter the market in two ways: via auto auctions and disreputable sellers. If the owner has comprehensive coverage and the insurance company declares the vehicle a total loss, the car is often given a salvage title, which means repairs cost more than the car is worth. After that, the vehicle is usually sent to be sold at auction, where it can end up in anyone’s hands. As long as sellers disclose that the car has a salvage title, the sale is legal.

However, there are always people looking to make a quick buck, says Frank Scafidi, of the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Some sellers may dry out and clean a flooded car without disclosing the damage. Others may manipulate the car’s title—called title washing, which involves selling the car in another state with looser title laws.

An extremely low price compared with prices for similar vehicles is the first tip-off—especially if the car is listed on Craigslist or is for sale at a shady-looking used-car lot. To see used-car prices, go to www.kbb.com and select “Car Values.”

Look for these telltale signs of flood damage with your own eyes:

  • A visible water line on the headlights and taillights (look inside the lenses).
  • A water line around the engine or excessive rust under the hood.
  • Rust or corrosion on exposed screws under the dashboard.
  • Upholstery that is new, frayed or doesn't match.
  • Mold on the seatbelts.

CarFax recently rolled out a free flood-check tool (www.carfax.com/flood). To use it, you’ll need a vehicle’s identification number. You can also check a vehicle’s flood history at VINCheck, run by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Or spring for a full vehicle history report at CarFax ($40 for one) or KBB’s AutoCheck ($25).

If you don’t uncover a history of flood damage but are still suspicious, sniff for a telltale odor of mildew, and turn on the radio to see if it sounds distorted. Inspect the instrument panel for trapped moisture. Better yet: Hire a trusted mechanic to do a full inspection.

Most Popular

Dying Careers You May Want to Steer Clear Of
careers

Dying Careers You May Want to Steer Clear Of

It’s tough to change, but your job could depend on it. Be flexible in your career goals – and talk with your kids about their own aspirations, because…
September 13, 2021
5 Top Dividend Aristocrats to Beef Up Your Portfolio
dividend stocks

5 Top Dividend Aristocrats to Beef Up Your Portfolio

The 65-member Dividend Aristocrats are among the market's best sources of reliable, predictable income. But these five stand out as truly elite.
September 14, 2021
7 Best Commodity Stocks to Play the Coming Boom
commodities

7 Best Commodity Stocks to Play the Coming Boom

These seven commodity stocks are poised to take advantage of a unique confluence of events. Just mind the volatility.
September 8, 2021

Recommended

After Hurricanes, Beware of Flooded Cars for Sale
Buying & Leasing a Car

After Hurricanes, Beware of Flooded Cars for Sale

Hurricane Ida may have passed, but there's a chance the used car you have your eye on could have been damaged by it. Here’s what to watch out for.
September 3, 2021
Should I Buy or Lease a Car?
cars

Should I Buy or Lease a Car?

It comes down to what type of owner you are. Do you like to hold onto your car for years or switch it out frequently? Do you drive a lot of miles? Do …
August 28, 2021
Complain and Get Results
Smart Buying

Complain and Get Results

Use these tried-and-true strategies to get companies to listen to you.
August 26, 2021
How to Get a Car Deal in a Crazy Market with Karl Brauer
Buying & Leasing a Car

How to Get a Car Deal in a Crazy Market with Karl Brauer

As used car values soar, the old rules of how to get the best price still hold. Also, in the stock market, value stocks pull a rotation move on growth…
July 2, 2021