“Once on used-car lots, these vehicles may then be sold at deep discounts relative to the going rates of similar cars, but without any disclosure from sellers about the vehicles’ exposure to the storm, echoing a common practice in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005,” notes Micheline Maynard in the Wheels blog in The New York Times.
“This is a time just to be wary if you are buying a used vehicle,” said Jack Nerad of Kelley Blue Book, which tracks used car values. “Be extra vigilant in the wake of a storm like this.”
Consumer Reports magazine recommends that shoppers contact their state’s motor vehicles department to learn if salvaged cars must be identified as such by the seller.
With the vehicle identification number (VIN), shoppers can check with the National Insurance Crime Bureau to see if vehicles have been salvaged or stolen.
The risk of buying a flooded car should add an additional layer of scrutiny to what always should be a rigorous process, said Jesse Toprak of TrueCar.com, which tracks car and truck prices. And if a potential buyer is at all nervous, “the best thing to do is simply walk away from it.
Shoppers should rely on their senses, the blog post advises:
- Check every nook and cranny of any used car for evidence of soot, grime and water damage. “If you look under the hood an dit’s so spotlessly cleaned tht it looks steam cleaned or pressure washed, that might be a hint that something is untoward,” Mr. Nerad said. After a visual inspection, the car should be taken to a mechanic, who can put the car on a lift and also run diagnostics on the electrical system.
- A car that’s been waterlogged has an unmistakably musty odor akin to a wet basement. “If you smell a lot of deodorant, that might be a sign that they’re trying to hide something,” Mr. Toprak added.
- There is no substitute for starting the car, driving it and listening to the engine.
- A buyer should put hands over everything, checking for dampness as well as soot or grit.