Considering purchasing a used car? Protect yourself from buying a flood damaged vehicle by doing a little research and by having the vehicle thoroughly checked by a mechanic. Rain, thunderstorms, swelling rivers and seasonal hurricanes hitting the coastlines all contribute to flooding disasters that can mean serious water damage to vehicles in those areas.

Water damage from 1999's Hurricane Floyd ruined approximately 75,000 vehicles and more than half of those ended up back on the road. Tropical Storm Allison damaged another 95,000 in 2001 and Hurricane Ivan left more than 100,000 vehicles water-logged.  The numbers for Hurricane Katrina are expected to skyrocket above half-a-million and safety experts warn that many of these flood damaged vehicles also will be dried out and offered for sale. Hurricanes and tropical storms, however, are only part of the problem.

Flooding can occur throughout the year and in any part of the country; however, auto industry analysts caution consumers that the risk of buying a flood damaged car is not limited to these areas. Flood damaged cars are often repaired cosmetically, and moved to adjacent states or even across the country where they are sold to unsuspecting consumers. These floodwaters can cause damage to vehicle computer and electrical systems, as well as potentially causing anti-lock braking and airbag systems to malfunction.

The right research can drastically reduce the risk of putting you and your family in a potentially dangerous vehicle.  Carfax offers the following three “must-do” steps to anyone buying a used car:

  • Take it for a spin – On your test drive, be on the look out for a signs of shaking, shimmying or other signs of potential problems.  Make sure you and the other drivers in your family all feel comfortable behind the wheel.
  • Get a Carfax Vehicle History Report – This report can reveal any title issues or other problems that a seller may try to hide.  Carfax has also added an advisory for any vehicle that was last registered in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster area.
  • Have a mechanic check it out – A certified, trusted mechanic will test the electrical and safety systems, two of the major components that water can affect.  They can also look for signs of water damage that may not be visible to the untrained eye.

Tips To help you avoid cars with flood damage

  • Check – Check the trunk, glove compartment, dashboard and below the seats for signs of water damage such as silt, mud or rust.
  • Examine – Examine upholstery and carpeting closely; if it doesn't match the interior or fits loosely, it may have been replaced. Discolored, faded or stained materials could mean water damage.
  • Turn-on – Turn the ignition key and make sure that accessory and warning lights come on and work properly.  Make sure the airbag and ABS lights come on.
  • Test – Test lights (interior and exterior), windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
  • Flex – Flex some of the wires beneath the dashboard. Wet wires will become brittle upon drying and may crack.
  • Smell – Take a deep breath and smell for musty odors from mildew.
  • Visit – Go to a trusted mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. Always get vehicles checked BEFORE handing over any money.
  • Ask – Ask to see a detailed vehicle history report. CARFAX Vehicle History Reports can reveal many hidden problems in a vehicle's past, including flood titles and will indicate if a vehicle has been titled/registered in at-risk areas during flood and hurricane seasons. If the seller does not offer a report, use the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) available on the dashboard to check the car's history at CARFAX.  Start with a Free CARFAX Flood Damage Check which will identify any vehicle that was last registered in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster area.

Facts: Flood Damage from Hurricanes and Tropical Storms

  • Hurricane Floyd (1999) Damaged 75,000 vehicles and more than half were put back out on the road.
  • Tropical Storm Allison (2001) – More than 95,000 vehicles flooded by the most extensive tropical storm in U.S. history.
  • Hurricane Ivan (2004) – Left more than 100,000 cars submerged in floodwaters throughout the Southeast.

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