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 decisions by offering interactive financial calculators and tools as well as publishing unique and impartial content, by enabling you to conduct research and compare information for free – so that you can make sound financial decisions. Bankrate has partnerships with issuers such as, but not limited to, American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Discover. How We Earn Money The offers that appear on this site come from companies who pay us. This compensation could affect how and when products are featured on this website, for example such things as the order in which they may be listed within the categories of listing in the event that they are not permitted by law for our loan products, such as mortgages and home equity, and other products for home loans. This compensation, however, does affect the information we publish, or the reviews that appear on this website. We do not cover the entire universe of businesses or financial offerings that could be open 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 writing and editing for Bankrate since the beginning of 2021. They are dedicated to helping readers gain the confidence to manage their finances with clear, well-researched information that breaks down otherwise complex subjects into bite-sized pieces. The Bankrate promise
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We are compensated for placement of sponsored products and, services, or by you clicking on certain links posted on our website. So, this compensation can influence the manner, place and when products appear in listing categories, with the exception of those prohibited by law regarding our mortgages, home equity, and other home lending products. Other factors, like our own proprietary website rules and whether a product is available within your region or within your personal credit score may also influence how and where products appear on this website. While we strive to provide a wide range offers, Bankrate does not include details about every credit or financial product or service. Car buyers throughout the nation can experience the aftereffects of catastrophic floods, if they do not know to purchase water-damaged vehicles. Used and new vehicles that have been damaged by significant flood events such as Hurricane Ida which hit 2021 in the year 2021 could get their way onto the market following the storm. Carfax data shows that up to 212,000 vehicles might be damaged due to the hurricane Ida. When flood-impacted cars are resold, unsuspecting buyers often face expensive electrical and mechanical problems that surface several months later. Even if you’re not in a place where flooding is common you can still inadvertently buy a car with water damage. Carfax research shows that vehicles that have been damaged by water are present everywhere, which means that buyers from coast to coastline are in danger of buying damaged by flooding. What can you tell when the car is damaged by water? Water-damaged cars can be hard to spot. They are usually clean and can even run smoothly for a little while. But eventually you could be faced with problems because flooded cars decay from the inside out. Here are some indicators that your car could be damaged by water: Musty odor the interior of water damaged vehicles will usually smell musty. Unscrupulous sellers may try to hide the scent with powerful air fresheners, but it’s very difficult to get rid of a car’s musty smell. One method to determine how a car smells is to be in the car and shut the windows. Carpets that are damp or wet Damage from water can accumulate in areas you cannot immediately notice, such as under carpeting. Check the carpets all over the car and then pat them to locate any potential moisture buildup. Examine the trunk too taking off the spare tire in order to check for any water underneath it. Carpeting that is stained or unmatched carpeting: Another indication that water has damaged your vehicle is to see a car that has stained or loose upholstery and carpeting. Check for brown, blotchy stains, which are signs that water has damaged the car. 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 may be covered in rust on the doors, under the hood or even under the dashboard. Door hinges, screws, trunk latches and even door handles could show signs of rusting. Brittle wires: Check under the dashboard if you believe a car may have water damage. Brittle wires could indicate that the vehicle has been impacted by any water-related event of some type. Fog or moisture beads: If your car’s interior lighting instruments, exterior lights, or lights appear dim or have water beads in the lights, it could be a warning sign that the vehicle might have water damage. Silt or mud buildup When there is a flood, water can carry dirt and mud into a vehicle. When the flood is over and the dirt is gone, it will be left behind. Some places to check for silt and mud are the trunk, glove compartment underneath the dashboard and below seats. 4 tips to avoid buying the car that has been flooded. If you think that your vehicle might be damaged by flooding or water it is important to do research and determine whether your intuition is right. There are numerous tools that can help you get to the root of this vital issue, and also warning signs to look out for. 1. Conduct a car history check The process of running a car history report can reveal issues with a car before you make a purchase. A sure sign of a water-damaged car can be seen in the way it is branded as such. Departments of motor vehicles need permanent title marks for cars which have been severely affected by flooding. If the vehicle is declared to be totally damaged, it is required to get the new title completely that’s branded “salvage” as well as “flood.” Based on the stateof the vehicle the fact that this happened could be made clear by a numerical code. Carfax and Experian provide tools for flood checks that permit users to conduct a free check on the background of a vehicle. They require your VIN of the car in question. If you are looking over a car’s past, keep your eye out for vehicles that are from areas that have been damaged by floods. The National Insurance Crime Bureau also provides free VIN checks online that permit customers to determine if a car has been declared salvaged. You will want to check a car’s historical report to determine if the car has changed hands multiple times in the course of a brief period. Be particularly leery of a past history that has buyers in multiple states. It could be a sign of what’s referred to as car “title washing,”” where unscrupulous sellers retitle a car repeatedly to hide its past. 2. Look for evidence of water damage. Cars which have been even partially submerged in water will often show obvious signs, however they could be less obvious, especially if the car has been cleaned up for resale. Take note of the smell of mold or musty such as those emanating through the system for controlling temperature. Be aware of any stains that show up on the car’s interior, engine compartment and trunk. Sand, dirt or mud in odd spots and seat belts that sound gritty when they are extended or pulled back are all signs of damage from water. It is also essential to test drive a vehicle in particular, particularly one that might be prone to flooding or water damage. Some things to be aware of when you test drive are compromised electrical systems and infotainment systems. These systems will act up if they have been affected by water. You will also want to be on the lookout for signs of smoke during your test drive. 3. Be wary of cars which are priced at a lower value. There’s a reason behind the adage about things being too good to be true. For instance, cars are priced well below their actual value. This can be an indicator that something is not right. Look up the median selling price for the car you’re thinking of buying through independent price sites for vehicles like Edmunds and Autotrader. A used or new car sold at a price that is lower than the market value is a strong indication that the seller is eager to sell the vehicle. Buyers need to be careful when a car is being listed for a significant discount. As well as asking questions about why the car is being offered for a lesser price than it should be an offer, it could be an excellent idea to have the vehicle looked at by an expert who can identify any problems. 4. Get a professional inspection It’s always a good idea employ a certified mechanic or automotive technician to thoroughly examine a vehicle prior to you purchase it, but it’s even more crucial to perform this procedure to safeguard yourself from water damage to your car. A professional will to ease your mind, particularly in the event that the vehicle you’re looking at has any of the warning signs mentioned in this article. Be sure that the inspection doesn’t only include obvious indications of water damage, but as well a thorough examination of all electronic equipment, since problems in these systems could be a long time before they are discovered. Although a pre-purchase inspection typically have to be paid by the buyer, it will be worth it to prevent the buyer from buying a car that is unsatisfactory. It is possible to pay between $100 and $200 for an inspection. What should you do if you bought a water-damaged car If you’ve purchased a car with water damage, it could remain intact. It is possible to repair the car by contacting an experienced mechanic. However, remember that these are not do-it-yourself fixes. You’ll need a professional who has extensive experience with cars. Also, keep in mind that repairing damaged vehicles after flooding will not cost a lot, so you’ll have to figure out if the car is worth the investment. In particular, since flood-damaged vehicles typically have no resale value. The bottom line Flood-damaged vehicles are utilized in every state of this country. If you suspect a car may have been impacted by flooding or some other kind of water-related event, there are steps you need to follow, such as obtaining a vehicle history report, examining for obvious indications of water damage, and having the vehicle inspected by a qualified professional. Be aware that even if you aren’t in a region affected through flooding you may 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. Edited by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been writing and editing for Bankrate from late 2021. They are committed to helping readers gain the confidence to take control of their finances through providing concise, well-researched and well-researched content that breaks down otherwise complex topics into digestible chunks.
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