Consumer alert: don’t buy a flood-damaged car

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In the recent “200 year event” flooding in Rhode Island, hundreds if not thousands of cars were submerged in flood waters. Can those cars be salvaged? Probably not, according to experts. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) defines a flooded vehicle as one that has been completely or partially submerged in water to the extent that its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical component parts have been damaged.
According to Ronny Pucino, a body shop owner in Rhode Island, there are three main elements in a car that are affected by flooding: the upholstery, the engine and the electronics. The extent of any damage depends largely on the level of water that the car experienced. Cars that have had wheel-top level damage may be able to be salvaged if the owner acted quickly to address the damage. But when water reaches as high as the dashboard, it is more likely that the engine and the electronics have been compromised and the car will be unsalvageable.
Being alert for flood-damaged cars should be of concern to all used car buyers, regardless of geography. Often, damaged cars are professionally refurbished and shipped to other parts of the country to be sold. Experts say that flood-damaged cars end up going to places where consumers won’t be likely to be on alert. Even when cars “clean up nice,” they may well have electrical or engine damage.
Edmunds.com offers some good tips on how to avoid buying a flood damaged car. They present 6 tell-tale tips, which we’ve summarized, but click on the article for more detail.
1. Get a vehicle history report.
2. Be alert to unusual odors.
3. Look for discolored carpeting.
4. Examine the exterior for water buildup.
5. Inspect the undercarriage.
6. Be suspicious of dirt buildup in unusual areas.
CARFAX offers more excellent tips for detecting and avoiding flood-damaged cars. They also offer vehicle history reports for a fee, which could be a worthwhile investment if you find a car you’re thinking of purchasing.
One other consumer service is the NICB’s VINcheck, a free service provided to the public to assist in determining if a vehicle has been reported as stolen, but not recovered, or has been reported as a salvage vehicle by cooperating NICB members. You must have the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to perform a search, and a maximum of five VINCheck searches can be conducted within a 24 hour period.