10 Tips to Spot a Flood Damaged Vehicle

November 01, 2012

The Better Business Bureau of North Central Texas is cautioning would-be car-buyers that some vehicles sold in the near future might be flood-damaged. Consumers will have to do some extra homework before buying a vehicle in the wake of hurricane Sandy.

Typically, auto insurance companies declare flood-damaged vehicles as total losses, and the vehicles are supposed to be sent to salvage yards. However, many of these cars are sold at auction as ‘salvage’ vehicles. Then, they may end up for sale in used-car lots, classified ads, or online bulletin boards like Craigslist.

The flood-damaged vehicles can be made to look presentable, with cleaning, new carpeting, and new floor mats. The cosmetic makeover can hide more serious problems, like mold and mildew, rusty wiring, computer damage, and even airbags that won’t inflate.

The Better Business Bureau has 10 tips to help people spot these flood-damaged vehicles:

1. Ask to see the vehicle’s title. Check the date and place of transfer, to see if the car came from a flood-stricken state and if the title is stamped “salvage.”

2. Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate; and look for signs of water.

3. Test the equipment, including the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, sound system, heater and air conditioning. In fact, check those several times to make sure they work.

4. Bend some wires under the dash to see if they crack or bend. Wet wires will become brittle after drying and can crack or fail at any time.

5. Check the interior -- including the trunk, glove compartment and under the seats and dash -- for signs of mud, rust or water damage.

6. Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced might fit too loosely or might not match the interior color.

7. Check for a well-defined water line, or for musty odors resulting from mildew.

8. Check the car dealer’s Better Business Review to see if it has a history of complaints.

9. Ask the dealer (or private seller) directly if the car has been damaged by floodwater.

10. Get a vehicle history report, based on its VIN number.

Prospective vehicle-buyers should get a trusted mechanic to conduct an inspection. The extra cost of such an examination can save big money if major problems are discovered.