Beware Flood Damaged Cars
You may have seen the news clips any time a massive storm hit on The Weather Channel. Whenever the water is standing two or three feet deep, there is always some poor soul caught out in the middle of it who has to abandon ship or stand on top of the car to avoid the rising waters. What becomes of these automobiles once the waters have subsided and the claims are filed?
Unfortunately, many of these cars end up back in circulation, and they’re being sold by unscrupulous car dealers to unsuspecting shoppers at a price that’s too good to be true.
If you’re in the market for a used car, flooding or water damage is something you should definitely watch out for. There are protections available, thanks to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the organization behind VINCheck.
VINCheck offers a free online search at www.nicb.org that gives car shoppers the opportunity to see more about the history of the vehicle, as well as any flood-related claims that it may have been involved in.
Still, that should not be the extent of your search. You should also focus on the car itself and pay particularly close attention to the following:
- Mildew, debris, or silt: Mildew is the biggie, and it is defined as a thin, superficial, usually whitish growth consisting of minute fungal filaments produced especially on living plants or organic matter such as wood, paper or leather, or the resulting smell, especially on clothing, paper, or other substances left damp in a household. The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) has cited this as well as silt and debris as common presences in flood-damaged vehicles.
- Rust: When checking for signs of rust, focus intently on screws and other metal parts of the vehicle. Rust can be removed professionally, but some traces generally survive around the edges of small parts. Scrutinize everything you can find that qualifies.
- Water stains and discoloration: When checking the upholstery, you may be able to spot signs of water stains or fading. Don’t stop there, though. Check for discoloration on seat belts and door panels.
- Dampness: Check for signs of dampness in the floor or carpeting or signs of moisture on the inside of the instrument panel.
- Moldy odor: If there is a moldy odor or the intense smell of Lysol or other deodorizer, this can be a sign of water damage.
What Do I Do If I’m Not Sure?
You actually have two vital weapons in the arsenal to fight against fraud due to water damage. Firstly, you’ll want to buy only from a reputable used car dealer. Even if it means paying a little more, don’t allow yourself to fall for a price tag that’s too good to be true. If possible, check reviews online and see if the dealer is listed with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Also, when you’re on the lot, make sure you take the car for a test drive free and clear from the salesman. Then, make a beeline for a mechanic that you trust, which brings us to your second failsafe: ask the mechanic to specifically search for signs of water damage.
Tell him to note anything that might be a cause of concern. Often times when having a mechanic do a once-over, we focus on one or two big things and overlook issues like water damage, so make a point of asking.
Pricing is a big red flag. Shop at more than one dealer to compare. If something just isn’t lining up and seems too good to be true, it usually is.