How to avoid buying a water-damaged car Advertiser Disclosure Advertiser Disclosure We are an independent, advertising-supported comparison service. Our goal is to help you make better financial choices by providing you with interactive tools and financial calculators that provide original and impartial content. We also allow users to conduct research and compare information at no cost – so that you can make informed financial decisions. Bankrate has partnerships with issuers including, but not limited to, American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Discover. How We Make Money The deals that are displayed on this site are from companies that pay us. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on the site, such as for instance, the order in which they appear in the listing categories in the event that they are not permitted by law. This applies to our loan products, such as mortgages and home equity, and other home loan products. However, this compensation will not influence the information we provide, or the reviews that you read on this site. We do not include the vast array of companies or financial offerings that could be available to you. Luis Diaz Devesa/Getty Images
5 min read Published June 22, 2022
Written by Mia Taylor Written by Contributing Writer Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation’s leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and Credit.com. Edited by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been editing and writing for Bankrate since the beginning of 2021. They are passionate about helping readers gain the confidence to manage their finances by providing precise, well-researched, and well-researched data that break down complex topics into manageable bites. The Bankrate promises
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We receive compensation for placement of sponsored products and, services, or through you clicking certain links posted on our website. So, this compensation can impact how, where and in what order products appear within listing categories, with the exception of those prohibited by law for our mortgage, home equity, and other home lending products. Other factors, like our own rules for our website and whether or not a product is available in your area or at your self-selected credit score range can also impact the manner in which products are featured on this website. Although we try to offer the most diverse selection of products, Bankrate does not include information about each financial or credit item or service. Automobile buyers across the United States are susceptible to the effects of devastating floods by knowingly buying damaged cars. New and used vehicles that have been damaged by floods of significant magnitude like the Hurricane Ida from 2021 can find their way to the market after an event. Carfax information suggests that as high as 212,000 vehicles may be damaged due to Hurricane Ida. If flood-damaged cars are sold in the market, buyers are often faced with expensive mechanical and electrical problems that are discovered several months later. Even if you’re not in a place where flooding is common it is possible to buy a car with water damage. Carfax research has also revealed that vehicles that have been damaged by water are present in every state, meaning buyers from coast to coast are in danger of buying damaged by flooding. What can you tell when a car has water damage Water-damaged cars can be hard to identify. They usually look good and may even run well for a while. But eventually you could face problems as flooded cars decay from the inside out. Here are some of the indications that a car might have water damage: Musty odor A car’s interior that has been damaged by water cars will often smell musty. Sellers who are not reputable may attempt to mask the smell with strong air fresheners, however it’s very difficult to completely rid a car of a musty smell. One way to test the car’s smell is to be inside and close the windows. Carpets that are damp or moist water damage may accumulate in areas that you can’t notice, such as under carpeting. Feel the carpets throughout the car and pat them to locate any possible moisture buildup. Examine the trunk too and remove the spare tire to look for any evidence of water under it. Upholstery that is stained or not matching and carpeting: Another sign that water has damaged your vehicle is to see a car with loose or stained carpeting or upholstery. Be on the lookout for blotchy brown stains, which are signs of water damage. When conducting inspections, compare carpeting on the floor with carpeting on the doors and the roof. All of them should appear like they are of the same in age and color. Rust: A car with water damage could be covered in rust on the doors, under the hood or even under the dashboard. Door hinges, screws or trunk latches as well as door handles could show signs of rusting. Brittle wires: Check under the dashboard in case you think a car may have water damage. The presence of brittle wires may be a sign that your vehicle has been impacted by a water event of any kind. Fog or water beads: If a car’s interior lighting and instrument panel, as well as exterior lights appear dim or have water beads within them, consider it a warning sign that the vehicle could be suffering from water damage. Mud or silt buildup: During flood events specifically, water may carry dirt and mud into vehicles. After the flood has gone but the dirt remains. Some of the places to check for silt and mud include the glove compartment, trunk, under the dashboard, and under the seats. Four tips to avoid purchasing a flooded car If you think that your vehicle might have water or flood damage it is important to do the research to determine whether your intuition is right. There are numerous tools that can assist you in getting to the root of this vital question, as well as indicators to watch out for. 1. Run a vehicle history report A vehicle history report can reveal issues with your car prior to you make a purchase. A clear indicator of a car that has been damaged by water is one that is identified as the case. Departments of motor vehicles need permanent title marks for vehicles that were badly destroyed by floods. If the vehicle was declared to be totally damaged, it is required to get an entirely new title that’s branded “salvage” or “flood.” The title will be determined by the condition the fact that this happened could be indicated with a numeric code. Carfax and Experian provide tools for flood checks that allow users to conduct an independent check on the history of a car. The platforms require only details about the VIN of the vehicle in question. If you are looking over a car’s past, keep your eye out for vehicles originating from areas affected by flooding. It is also important to check the National Insurance Crime Bureau also provides free online VIN checks that allow customers to determine if a car has been declared salvaged. It is important to look at a vehicle’s history report to see if there is any indication that the vehicle has been sold multiple times in a short period of time. Be particularly leery of any history that includes buyers in multiple states. It could be a sign of what’s referred to as car “title washing,”” where unscrupulous sellers retitle cars repeatedly in order to hide its past. 2. Examine for signs of water damage. Cars that are submerged in water often have telltale signs, but they could be less obvious, especially if the car has been cleaned up for resale. Take note of musty or moldy smells that emanate out of the control panel for the temperature. Note any stains that appear on the interior of the vehicle, engine compartment and trunk. Dirt, sand or mud in odd places , and seat belts that sound sluggish when extended or pulled back are all indicators of damage from water. It’s also important to try driving a car that you suspect might be prone to flooding or water damage. Hints to watch out for while you’re driving include damaged electrical systems and infotainment systems. These systems will react if they’ve been impacted by water. You will also want to be on the lookout for signs of smoke while you test drive. 3. Be cautious of vehicles that are priced lower than market value. There’s a reason behind the saying that something is too good to be true. This includes cars being priced at a premium over their worth, and this can be an indicator that something is wrong. Find the average selling price for the car you’re thinking of buying on independent vehicle pricing sites like Edmunds or Autotrader. A car that is new or used sold at a price that is lower than the market value is a strong sign that the seller is looking to dispose of the vehicle. Buyers need to be careful when a car is being listed for a significant discount. Alongside asking questions about the reason the vehicle is being sold for much less than what it is, it may be recommended to get the car evaluated by a professional who can detect any issues. 4. Take a professional inspection generally a wise idea engage a certified mechanic automotive technician to thoroughly inspect a car prior to you purchase it, but it’s even more crucial to take this step in order to protect yourself from damage caused by water on your vehicle. A professional can help ease your mind, especially when the vehicle you’re considering has one or more of the signs that are listed here. Make sure the inspection doesn’t only include obvious indicators of water damage but also a thorough test of all the electronics equipment, since problems with these systems can take months to surface. A pre-purchase inspection generally be paid by the buyer, it will be money well spent if it prevents you from getting an automobile that’s an absolute lemon. It is possible to pay anywhere from $100-$200 for an inspection. What to do if you purchased a car that has been damaged by water If you’ve purchased a car with water damage, all may not be lost. It is possible to repair the car by contacting an experienced mechanic. But , keep in mind that these aren’t DIY repairs. It will require professionals with extensive knowledge of cars. It’s also worth bearing in mind that fixing an affected vehicle after a flood won’t be cheap, so you’ll have to figure out if the car is worth the cost. Particularly since damaged cars from floods usually don’t have any selling value. In the end, flood-damaged cars are utilized in every state across this nation. If you think that a vehicle could have been affected by flooding or some other type of water event there are several steps to consider, including completing a car history report, examining for obvious evidence of water damage, and having the car inspected by a qualified professional. Remember, even if you aren’t in a region that has been affected with flooding, it is possible that you could not be aware of an automobile that has been damaged by water. Find out more
Written by Contributing Writer Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation’s leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and Credit.com. Written by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been editing and writing for Bankrate since late 2021. They are committed to helping readers feel confident to manage their finances with concise, well-researched and well-researched content that breaks down complicated topics into digestible chunks.
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