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Be Wary of Flood Damaged Vehicles After Sandy

Hurricane Sandy

Megastorm Sandy has finished cutting a path of destruction throughout the northeast portion of the U.S., but the impact of this epic storm will be felt in the auto industry for quite a while. One thing to be particularly aware of is the influx of flood-damaged vehicles into the used car market, as detailed in an article at The Detroit Bureau.

Flood waters can devastate a vehicle in multiple ways. “A car’s engine, electronics, fuel system, airbags and brakes are all extremely susceptible to flood water,” says Carl Sullivan of AiM, a car inspection company in California. “It’s extremely important to find any water damage before you invest your money in a used car, and a professional inspection will find flood damage no matter how a seller tries to hide it.” Saltwater is particularly troublesome as it is more corrosive than fresh water.

Some states that have been hardest-hit by Sandy, such as New York and New Jersey have strict regulations regarding vehicles declared as total losses due to flooding, and the federal government established a database for totaled vehicles in 2009. However, unscrupulous dealers have figured out ways around this.

Sometimes, moving a car to another state will cause the flood-damaged designation to be “washed” off, so even if you’re an auto buyer outside of the affected region, you could wind up with flooded vehicles in your state. Some unscrupulous dealers will even go so far as to change the vehicle identification number to hide a car’s tainted past.

The article also notes some things to look for when shopping for a used vehicle that can indicate that the car was flooded, such as:

• Water and/or condensation in the headlights or taillights

• Musty or moldy odors in the vehicle

• Mud in the seat belt tensioners

• Water in the spare tire well in the trunk

• Sagging headliner

• Corrosion under the vehicle

If your car has been flooded, the recommendation is that it should be cleaned and inspected before you try to start it, and attempt to dry out the vehicle as quickly as possible, before corrosion takes hold. It is important that fluids and lubricants be flushed and replaced, including transmission fluid and motor oil, and any filters or gaskets exposed to water should be replaced. Brake parts and bearings should also be inspected.

Chances are, though, that if your car was significantly flooded, particularly with salt water, the vehicle will be declared a total loss. With the significant reliance on electronics, and the susceptibility of those electronics to water damage, replacement costs can pile up quickly. Be sure to contact your insurance company before attempting any repairs.