How to avoid getting stuck with a flood-damaged used car - KCTV5

How to avoid getting stuck with a flood-damaged used car

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The attorney general for both Kansas and Missouri, along with federal investigators, are warning buyers about an unusually high number of flood-damaged cars on the market during the next two months. (AP) The attorney general for both Kansas and Missouri, along with federal investigators, are warning buyers about an unusually high number of flood-damaged cars on the market during the next two months. (AP)
FAIRWAY, KS (KCTV) -

The attorney general for both Kansas and Missouri, along with federal investigators, are warning buyers about an unusually high number of flood-damaged cars on the market during the next two months.

An estimated 13 million vehicles were in Harvey’s path. The National Insurance Crime Bureau sent out an alert to potential buyers concerning the sale of flood-damaged cars without the seller disclosing information about the damage.

“You’ll see some of them come up in the Midwest. You’ll see some of them come up maybe through Kentucky, maybe Arizona, but they could be anywhere there’s no escaping them,” Roger Morris, communications director for the National Insurance Crime Bureau told KCTV5.

Morris says the number of flood-damaged cars post-Harvey is unprecedented.

“We covered Sandy we covered Katrina. I’ve seen the flooding from Houston last year that had a lot of vehicles. Nothing like this though – this is the largest amount on record we’ve seen,” Morris said.

Morris went on to say it doesn’t take a whole lot of work to polish up a totaled flood-damaged car.

“All it takes is a little bit of cleaning up, air freshener… maybe new upholstery,” he said.

Sellers can get rid of the smell and the appearance of damage, but there’s no way to fix the irreversible damage from flood water.

“Basically a car today is a computer on wheels,” he said. "After a period of time flooded with filthy, salty water, there’s no saving that vehicle."

There are some important steps you can take to identify a flood-damaged car before wasting thousands of dollars. 

The Consumer Federation of America suggests the following tips:

  1. Check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) which is located on the driver’s side dashboard, visible through the windshield, with the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System established by the U.S. Department of Justice. You’ll have to pay a small fee for the information, but it’s the most comprehensive database.  You can also check with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) or CarFax (both currently offering free flood history information). Even if the database has no flood information, beware, as fraudsters have ways of getting around VIN registration information or it simply wasn’t reported.
  2. Use your nose. Beware if the vehicle smells musty or damp or if you smell some kind of air freshener.  Close up the windows and run the air conditioner and check for a moldy smell.
  3. Look for dirt, mud and water stains. Check the carpets, seat upholstery, cloth lining inside the roof, if you see any dirt or mud stains, beware. Feel under the dashboard for dirt or moisture and look in the glove boxes, ashtray, and various other compartments for moisture or stains. If you see straight stain line either on the inside of the door panel, engine compartment or trunk—watch out, that’s probably how high the water went in the vehicle.  Tip: If the carpeting, seat coverings or headliner seem too new for the vehicle, that’s a sign that they may have been replaced due to flood damage.
  4. Listen for crunch. Pull the seats forward and back and try all of the safety belts. If you’re looking at an SUV with folding seats, try folding them all. Listen for the ‘crunchy’ sound of sand or dirt in the mechanisms or less than smooth operation.
  5. Check the spare tire (or inflator) area. Look for mud, sand or stains on the spare tire and jack equipment and the well under the spare tire. Check under the trunk carpet for a rigid board and look to see if it is stained or has water damage.
  6. Power up. Be sure to try all the power options including windows, locks, seats, moon roof, automatic doors, wipers, window washers, lights, AC system, etc.  If any don’t work, sound funny, or operate erratically, beware. And don’t forget the sound system.  Try out the radio, CD player and Bluetooth connectivity. Adjust the speakers front and back and side to side to listen for any crackling or speaker failure.
  7. Check for rust or corrosion. Look around the doors, in the wheel wells, under the seats, under the hood and trunk and inside the engine compartment.
  8. Look under the hood. Look at the air filter.  It’s often easy to check and will show signs of water damage.  Check the oil and transmission fluid.  If it looks milky or has beads of water, watch out.
  9. Take a test drive and listen for unusual engine or transmission sounds or erratic shifting and acceleration. Set the cruise control to see if it is working properly.
  10. Check out the head and tail lights; look closely to see if there is any water or fogging inside. Same with the dashboard—are any of the gauges foggy or containing moisture droplets.

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