Wherever you find disaster, you almost always find someone attempting to profit. Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the summer of 2005, thousands of water-damaged vehicles showed up in car lots all across the southern United States, many with no visible problems. They were sold outside of the hurricane’s heavy-hit areas, to avoid suspicion of flood damage. Though in excellent physical condition, these refurbished cars could still be prone to problems, which is why concealing their disastrous history is against the law.
A “flooded” vehicle is one that has been submerged or partially submerged in water to the extent that damage to the body, engine, transmission or differential occurs. However, even though physical damage is visible within hours of the flood, it could take weeks or even months for the car to exhibit symptoms of damage with the transmission, on-board computer or electrical systems within the dashboard, anti-lock brakes, airbags, and other safety functions.
Even though most state laws require that the buyer be informed in writing of previous flood damage to a vehicle, there are still several cases each year where the buyer believed they were getting a great deal on a great car. Despite a flawless exterior, there are other ways to spot a flood-damaged vehicle.
To prevent yourself from being taken advantage of in this situation, here are some basic guidelines in spotting a flood-damaged car:
- Check the engine, trunk, glove compartment, and the floor beneath the carpeting for signs of sand, silt or moisture.
- Examine all of the computerized and electrical components of the vehicle, including lights, gauges, air conditioning, wipers, turn signals, radio, etc.
- If you suspect the car may be flood-damaged, ask the seller directly.
- If you are still unsure, have the car examined by an independent mechanic.