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Can You Spot Flood Damaged Vehicles or Parts?

Learn What to Look for and What to Avoid

Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey wrecked into our southern coast harder than we anticipated. In the wake of all of that destruction, over 300,000 vehicles were claimed by insurance companies, with many more still waiting to be claimed. Now that those vehicles are being sold via auction, they may be coming to a used car lot near you. Most of these cars have been checked out and the damaged disclosed, but some manage to sneak through. This is where we as buyers must be vigilant, and know what red flags to look for.

The first thing we always do when buying a used vehicle is pull up a vehicle report. If the previous owners have been responsible, any real flooding issues would have been reported. This is our first line of defense, but again, we must be able to look deeper than a report that has been wrong before. Secondly, find out where the car came from, and if it came from a flooded area consider the following.

Take a look at the carpet and interior. If it is newer than the car itself, it may have been replaced to get rid of the mildew smell that will never go away once a car has been submerged. If the car happens to smell like gym socks masked with room spray, you may also have a problem. With that water also comes mud and debris. You can look in discrete areas to find lines where the water rose to, or signs that it washed in mud and dirt. The best place to find this is under the dashboard, in door frames and hinges, under the car on the backside of the fenders, and in the engine compartment.

Rust and water lines will also be a visual warning. Paint can develop faint marks where the water would have sat up to that point. You have to look hard, and sometimes you can feel it with your hand. Rust will also show where that paint may have come off and metal was exposed. Newer models are far less likely to rust, and rust on a 2010 or newer may be a bad sign. Also keep in mind that not all flooding shows passed the door frame. Some minor flooding is hard to spot, but rust on the bottom will be easiest to spot and most detrimental. 

Keep in mind that cars get parted out constantly. If you spend time delving in the used part market, you may want to check your sources. Cars often get sold to out of state shops, parted out, and resold from other states. Flood-damaged used parts are not terribly common nationwide, but particularly in flood-damaged areas, they cause a lot of issues. With so much loss from both hurricanes, there is no wonder why someone would try to take advantage of the situation, so stay alert if you’re in the market.

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Calvin Escobar
About Calvin Escobar

The Car scene is so diverse Where I come from, most enthusiasts recognize the amazing engineering (particularly the engines). The bulk of the ridicule originates from the manner in which many of the vehicles are modded/maintained. Thus, the jokes and or hate tends to be aimed more at the owner rather than the machine. All of which makes seeing properly sorted old Toyota's and Hondas at car meets, auto shows, and track days all the more refreshing.

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