Ten tips to avoid buying a flood-damaged car

More than 200,000 cars were damaged by Hurricane Sandy. But not all of them were abandoned. Some were sold for scrap, some to buyers looking for a bargain and some, well, they ended up in the hands of dishonest sellers hoping to make a bundle. How can you avoid getting stuck with a Sandy lemon? Check out the following tips:

1. Take a deep whiff. How does the car smell? Flooded vehicles often retain a musty, dank odor -- Eau d’Hurricane.

2. Peel up the carpeting in the trunk, look in the spare tire well, the housing for head and tail lights -- look any place water could have collected. If you see mud or a dirt, that can be a sign of flood damage.

3. Be sure to compare paperwork any seller shows you against information on file with a company like Carfax. This is your chance to catch a title that’s been “title washed,” where damage from the storm has been removed from a car’s title, either by criminal means or through overly loose state regulations. You can check a car for flood damage for free, here: http://flood.carfax.com (Credit: Frank Scafidi, The National Insurance Crime Bureau)

4. Look under the floorboard carpet for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water not related to air-conditioning pan leaks. (Credit: National Automobile Dealers Association)

5. Check for rust on screws in the console or other areas where the water would normally not reach unless submerged. (Credit: National Automobile Dealers Association)

6. Examine upholstery and carpeting closely; if it doesn't match the interior or fits loosely, it may have been replaced. Discolored, faded or stained materials could indicate water damage. (Credit: Carfax.com)

7. Consumers can also check with NMVTIS, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, to find out if their car has a junk or salvage (including total loss) history.

8. Flex some of the wires beneath the dashboard. Wet wires will become brittle upon drying and may crack. (Credit: Carfax.com)

9. Get the car looked at by a mechanic or someone else similarly knowledgeable.

10. Many used car dealers have subscriptions to services such as Carfax. Save a dime and ask your dealer for a copy of the report. (Credit: Philip Reed, Edmunds.com)


For more about how to avoid buying a flood-damaged cars, tune into Marketplace Money this weekend.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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