When it comes to cars, water can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, a gallon of the soapy stuff can keep your car’s exterior looking squeaky clean. Too much of it, however, can render a car worthless. If a vehicle suffers from flood damage, it’s typically reported to an insurance company, who compensates the owner for the loss. Usually, these cars are scrapped, but occasionally they’re issued a salvage title and resold.
While dealers are required by law to report flood damage, there are still unscrupulous individuals who will try to pass salvaged cars off as fully functional. These vehicles may look identical to their fully titled counterparts, and may even run well for a short time. Here are some warning signs a car you’re buying may have flood damage:
Inspect the Seller
If you’re buying from a reputable car dealer, you likely won’t have anything to worry about. Large-scale car dealerships or family owned-enterprises with a history of integrity generally aren’t looking to take you for a ride. Be wary of Craigslist sellers, person-to-person exchanges, or anyone who seems to be pushing the sale too hard without answering your questions.
Examine the Interior
Once you’ve ascertained the seller seems trustworthy, inspect the inside of the vehicle for telltale signs of flood damage:
- Close the doors for a few minutes, then open and take a whiff. If you smell mildew or mold, that’s not a good sign. Also be wary of cars that smell too good, as car fresheners can mask the smell of rot temporarily.
- Press down on the seat cushions to check for dampness. The cushions and padding can retain water from flood damage for months after an incident.
- Water stains in the interior can be a sign of damage, but not necessarily. If the previous owner had small children, you can expect some less-than-perfect spots.
- Check all exposed metal parts for corrosion. Are the bolts and nuts still shiny, or do they look like they’ve been sitting out in the rain?
Take a Look Under the Hood
If the interior check looks clear, it’s time to pop the hood and review the engine. Sometimes it takes a mechanic to spot signs of water damage, but there are a few things you can do to rule it out:
- Pull out the dipstick and check the oil. Motor oil is generally translucent, but when it mixes with water, it can get milky. Even if the car hasn’t been in a flood, water in the oil is a sign of serious mechanical issues, so it’s time to move on. The same goes for the transmission (if the vehicle comes equipped with a dipstick).
- If you know how, unclip the air filter and take a look. Once paper has been exposed to water, it never looks the same, so be on the lookout for any telltale signs.
- Finally, look for fogging in the exterior lights. A leaking seal may cause condensation to build up occasionally, but foggy lights are usually a good indication they were completely submerged.
Go for a Test Drive
If all other checks seem clear, a long test drive can help assuage any nagging doubts. You should take any vehicle you plan on driving every day out for a spin, anyway. Lookout for quirks in the electrical system or distortion coming from the speakers. If the car seems to drive fine and passes your inspection, chances are you’re buying one that’s never been underwater.
Flooded vehicles are unreliable and can cause serious injury if they fail on the road. If you suspect you’ve been sold a flooded car without proper documentation, call personal injury attorney Brian White.