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Will Super Storm Sandy Damaged Cars End Up In Your City?

Super storm Sandy recently wrecked havoc all over the east coast. Coverage of the disaster showed submerged and flooded cars everywhere. Some of these cars will be repaired and kept by their current owners; many more will be totaled by an insurer and sold to rebuilders. While there are many honest rebuilders out there, some are less than thorough when they rebuild the cars and put them back on the road. If you end up in an improperly salvaged car, or one that was simply allowed to dry out, you could be setting yourself up for a big headache.

While experts predict that the number of flood-damaged cars hitting the market will be nowhere near as bad as Hurricane Katrina there is no doubt that some will make it into the used car market soon.

How do these cars end up back in the marketplace? When an insurance company totals a damaged car they are often sold through auto salvage auctions. These cars can end up thousands of miles from where they were flooded. They may be purchased by rebuilders, or even used car lots that either rebuild them, or simply freshen them up before trying to sell them.

In most states when the insurer totals the car it is issued a salvage title, which alerts future buyers that it has been damaged. Cars that have a salvage title are only worth a fraction of a clean title vehicle. Unfortunately, less than honest buyers will move the cars between states until they manage to get a clean title issued. This is called title washing.

In addition to unscrupulous rebuilders, owners will sometimes attempt to sell their flood-damaged vehicle without informing potential buyers that the car has been in a flood.

If you are in the market for a used car, knowing how to spot a flood-damaged car can save you tons of money and trouble.

How to Spot a Flood Damaged Car

Smell – A flood-damaged car will smell. It will have a musty odor to it. The seller may try to cover this odor with deodorants, perfumes or other overpowering smells. If the car has a unusually fresh or overwhelming perfume smell to it you should further investigate the car before making an offer. The smell of the car is often one of the first things you will notice.

Look for Moisture – Cars that have been flooded will show signs of moisture damage. Check the gauges on the dashboard for moisture and be sure to test all of the switches. Turn on the lights, wipers, turn signals, radio and heater. Check wiring under the dashboard, if it is cracked there is a good chance the car has been flooded.

Rust – Check for rust in the trunk, engine compartment and other areas where water would not usually get in. Check under the interior carpet and even behind door panels if possible. If you find rust where it should not be, move on to another car.

Mud and Crud – Check for mud and other debris in the engine compartment and other areas where it shouldn’t be. Even the glove box can have signs of damage and rust. Get under the dashboard and make sure there is no mud, or dirt which would be a sure sign of flood damage.

Do a VIN Check – You should pull a CarFax or other VIN check on any car that you are considering. If the car has had a salvage title issued this should be listed on the CarFax. This is a fairly inexpensive way to find any problems a car has had in the past.

While flood damaged cars will often develop engine and electrical problems if they are not fixed correctly, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to buy a properly rebuilt car. If a car is completely stripped down and the carpets, seat foam and airbags are properly replaced a salvage title car can be a good buy. It is best to know the rebuilder or have a friend’s recommendation. Before final payment have the car inspected by a trustworthy third party mechanic to make sure the rebuild was done correctly.

Flood damaged cars can be a major headache, knowing what to look for will help you avoid a lemon. 

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