The last thing you want to happen when you buy a used car is to find out after the fact that you bought a car that was flooded. This can happen when a car has been through a major catastrophe, such as a hurricane, and has been sent to the salvage yard. Its title should reflect that it has been damaged, but it isn’t too difficult for unscrupulous people to buy these cars, fix them up and have them retitled, often in states far away from the damage.
You can search for tell tale signs of a flooded car and avoid buying a lemon car:
Take a whiff — Let your senses tell you if something is wrong with a car. Musty smells can be detected even if the cabin, trunk or engine pay has an unmistakeable perfume or cleaning solution smell. That smell alone should tell you that something is not right. Why else would a seller try to use a cleaning solution or perfume in a car he is trying to sell?
Feel the carpeting — Flood damaged cars usually have new carpeting. If the carpeting feels too new compared to the age of the car, your suspicions should be raised. If the carpet has not been replaced, run your hands over it to looks for signs of staining and fading. A carpet that has been soaked just doesn’t feel right either — the pile can feel rough. Use the same testing methods for the upholstery too.
Look in nooks and crannies — Flip the rear seats over, move the front seats back and forth, and peel away the carpeting. Look closely at the bolts and seat runners — if these appear rusty, then the car has been water damaged. Check the tire well, storage compartments and door pockets for signs of water. Staining and residual matter could be present.
Check the electrical system — Damage to your car’s electrical system may be more difficult to see, but if all of the wires beneath the dashboard are new, then you can expect that this car has been damaged. Replacing the wires won’t mask worse problems such as salt water in the engine, in the transmission or in other components.
Explore the trunk — New carpeting in the trunk, a new jack for the spare tire or anything else that doesn’t match up with the rest of the trunk should be a warning sign. Check the gasket around the trunk as well as the hood — it could be brittle or new if the current owner has replaced it. Wiring in the tail lamps could be damaged. Look up and within the trunk lid for signs of rust, discoloration and foul odors.
You can also track your vehicle’s history by obtaining a CarFax report or by visiting the National Insurance Crime Bureau and using its VinCheck service to find out whether a car has been declared an unrecovered stolen or salvage vehicle. Finally, hire a trusted mechanic to inspect your car too. He may turn up things you’ve missed or didn’t think to inspect.