In the wake of recent flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, Better Business Bureau is urging new and used car buyers to be cautious of unscrupulous businesses and individuals who may try to sell flood-damaged cars without revealing the vehicles’ history. According to the DMV, vehicle rebuilders may be able to hide most of the cosmetic flood damage, but it’s difficult to completely repair an engine that has been flooded. These flood-damaged vehicles could end up being unreliable down the road.
Here are a few ways to determine whether or not a car is flood-damaged:
• Thoroughly inspect the vehicle. Be sure to check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and inspect the trunk, glove compartments, seats and dashboard for signs of mud, rust or water damage. Signs of water damage may include water stains, mildew or sand under the carpet, floor mats and dashboard. It could also include discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color. Fogging inside the headlights, taillights and gauges.
• Do a smell test. A heavy aroma of cleaners or disinfectants is a sign of somebody’s attempt to mask a mold or odor issue. Smell for musty odors resulting from mildew, and check for a well-defined line, or watermark, that could cause the odor.
• Self-test the features inside the vehicle. Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.
• Have a mechanic inspect the vehicle. Before buying any used car, always get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. Have the mechanic inspect the car’s mechanical and electrical components, systems that contain fluids and for water damage. The extra cost may save you money in the long run. Use BBB to find a trustworthy mechanic and visit a company’s Business Review page.
• Ask to see the title of the vehicle. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped “salvage.” If the car’s history seems suspicious, ask the dealer or individual directly if the car has been damaged by flood water. Also, if you’re purchasing a used car from a dealership, be sure to check out the reliability of the dealer by visiting bbb.org.
• Report fraud. If you suspect a dealer is knowingly selling a flood-damaged car or a salvaged vehicle as a “good-condition” used car, contact your auto insurance company, local law enforcement agency or report it to your local BBB. Also, report it to BBB Scam Tracker, as this could help alert others to a rip-off.