How to Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car

  
     
When a car is declared a total loss, it should be sent to the junk yard. However, many of these cars are often sold at auction as 'salvage' vehicles.
October 17, 2016

Media contact: Janet C. Hart, APR, CFEE, Fellow PRSA (704) 927-8617 office

CHARLOTTE, NC – Recent flooding in North Carolina and the southeastern U.S. from Hurricane Matthew damaged homes and cars. If you are in the market for a used car, BBB cautions you to watch out for flood-damaged vehicles. 

After a vehicle has incurred flood damage, the insurance company may declare it a total loss. When a car is declared a total loss, it should be sent to the junk yard. However, many of these cars are often sold at auction as 'salvage' vehicles. Then, they may end up for sale in used car lots, classified ads or online on Craigslist. 

After a thorough cleaning, new carpets and floor mats, these cars may look just as good as any other car on the surface. Buying a car that has been exposed to flood waters can have hidden problems including mold and mildew, rusty wiring, computer malfunctions, airbags that don’t inflate and more. 

BBB has 10 tips to help you spot these former 'submariner' vehicles, which could be sold as ‘good clean used cars’. 

  1. Ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged area 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 lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, sound system, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work. 
  4. 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.
  5. Check the interior of the trunk and glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dashboard for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
  6. Look for discolored, faded or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color. 
  7. Check for a well-defined line, or ‘watermark’, and for musty odors resulting from mildew.
  8. Check the car dealer’s BBB review to see if they have a history of complaints.
  9. Ask the dealer directly if the car has been damaged by floodwater.
  10. Get a vehicle history report based on its VIN number.

Before you buy any used car, you should always get a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted mechanic. The extra cost may save you money in the long run if major problems are discovered.

For more information, please visit www.bbb.org.

###