How to Avoid Buying a Flooded Vehicle

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the market for cars has been “flooded” with vehicles that were submerged during the storm. Owners of flood-damaged cars have resorted to a number of deceptive tactics in an effort to quickly offload their problems. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

Talk to an expert that you trust

In general, we recommend purchasing a vehicle from a reputable dealership. Auto dealers must adhere to high professional standards and cannot afford to risk their reputation. Buying a vehicle from a site like Craigslist might be a good way to get a better price, but you’re also taking much more risk. If you do choose to go this route, make sure to enlist the assistance of a mechanic who knows how to spot problems that a layperson may not recognize.

Get the VIN history

The practice of “title-washing” is a common way to dump a flooded vehicle on an unsuspecting buyer. Unscrupulous individuals may purchase a car with a salvage title and resell it without disclosing the fact that it was ever flooded. Flood damage typically appears on a vehicle’s history report. The most obvious red flag is a salvage title, which generally indicates that an insurance company decided to total the vehicle instead of fixing it. However, there is no bulletproof way to guarantee that you have all of the facts about what you are buying. That’s why it is important to consult an expert, no matter how confident you may feel about a vehicle.

Look for signs of water damage

While it takes a trained professional to identify many less-obvious problems, it is a good idea to school yourself on the most common indicators that a car may have been flooded:

  • A “water line” on the outside of the vehicle—any difference in paint color or finish between two areas of the vehicle.
  • The smell of mold or mildew inside
  • Water stains on the upholstery
  • Beaded or trapped moisture inside the dash panel
  • Any signs of rust or corrosion on metal parts
  • Mismatched carpet or rugs that were recently replaced
  • Any abnormalities with the electronics (horn, wipers, turn signals, headlights, radio)

If you are considering buying a used vehicle and want to make sure that you know the full story about it first, bring the vehicle to one of our three Triangle locations and our trained mechanics can look it over to make sure that it is safe and reliable before you buy it.