How Can We Avoid Buying ‘Flooded’ Cars?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Up to one million cars suffered flood damage during hurricanes Irma and Harvey, according to Cox Automotive, parent company of Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.

Many of those cars will make it to an auction, have their titles marked by insurance companies as “flooded” and be sold off for parts.

But others could end up on the used car market as scam artists figure out how to get around the flooded marking on the title. According to Carfax.com, as many as 7,000 flooded cars are on Minnesota roads from previous storms.

“It’s not common, but after Katrina, we did see an influx of them after Katrina,” says Nate Anderson, one of the owners of Bobby & Steve’s Auto World.

Once a car is flooded, it can have shorted-out electronics, stained upholstery and corrosion that’s difficult to see. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s kaput, but there’s a good chance a driver will have problems weeks, months or years later.

“You can fix a flooded car, but you’ll likely have issues down the line,” says Anderson.

Experts recommend:

  1. Check the car title, which can be found at a dealership or Department of Motor Vehicles.
  2. Check the National Insurance Crime Bureau database of vehicles reported stolen or salvaged.
  3. Buy a report of the vehicle’s history from a company like Carfax or Autocheck.

Then, people should look at and smell the vehicle for themselves.

“That smell will come back, no matter how good you are at cleaning it out,” says Anderson. “The smell will come back.”

Anderson says look at the headlights – do they have a haze after the water has been drained from them? Are the carpets hard and crusty or still wet? Is there water in the spare tire – a place a cleaner might have missed? Is there corrosion in some of the connectors in the car?

Finally, experts recommend someone always get a used vehicle inspected by a mechanic before purchase. Most auto repair shops offer them. At Bobby and Steve’s, they are $55.

More from Heather Brown
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