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Flood-damaged vehicles may soon flood the market

STILLWATER, Okla. – Hurricanes Harvey and Irma left a wide path of destruction across Texas and Florida. Now that the forceful winds are dying down, cities and towns in both states are dealing with massive flooding.
Flood-damaged vehicles may soon flood the market

Vehicles flooded in recent storms may soon find their way on to car lots in your area. Know what signs of flood damage to look for.

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people may try to take advantage of others in the wake of these horrific storms.

While many homes and other structures were destroyed, thousands of automobiles were left sitting in floodwater, said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist.

“For those of you who are in the market for a vehicle, keep in mind those flooded vehicles from the storm areas may find their way to local dealerships or be available through individual sales,” Peek said. “Buying a car is a big financial step, so it’s important to be as informed as possible about what to look for in a vehicle suspected of flood damage.”

Peek suggests starting the search with a reputable dealer. Those dealerships likely are not going to risk their reputations by selling flood-damaged vehicles to unsuspecting buyers. Once a vehicle has been located, ask the dealer if it has been damaged by floods. Be sure to get the answer in writing.

“If the seller or dealership won’t commit in writing to a firm ‘no,’ you should take your business elsewhere,” she said. “Also, check the vehicle’s title. You will be able to see what region of the country the vehicle came from, and if it came from a region with significant flooding, check for indications on the title that read flood or salvage. These indicators are required by law in some states.”

Not only use your eyes when searching for a vehicle, use your nose as well. It can be very difficult to get rid of the musty smell from a flood-damaged car. This unpleasant smell should be a red flag for potential buyers. If there is a heavy smell of an air freshener, this also can be a sign the seller is trying to cover up the musty smell.

Potential buyers also should look for signs of moisture in the car. Run your hands along the carpet, and if possible, pull back the carpet and look for signs of rust. Also check for rust on door hinges, hood springs, trunk latches, bolts and brackets under the dash. Corrosion is common in flood-damaged cars and continues to eat away at materials long after the car has been dried out. You might even want to use a mirror to check for rust on the springs under the seats, as well as the undercarriage of the car.

Another tell-tale sign of flood damage is mismatched upholstery. If sections of upholstery don’t match other parts of the car, this is a good indicator some of it has been replaced. Also, be sure to look for water stains. And, if the car is 10 years old but the carpet looks new, ask questions. All material inside the car should appear to be about the same age.

Floodwater obviously can damage the electrical wiring in a car, so when going on a test drive be sure to test all electronics in the vehicle, including headlights, brake lights, backup lights, dashboard lights, blinkers, windshield wipers, emergency flashers, cigarette lighter, ports for electronics and the radio/CD player. Make sure everything is in proper working order.

“Once you’ve found a vehicle you like and think is a good investment, take it to your trusted mechanic for inspection,” Peek said. “A good mechanic will know where to look for signs of flood damage that you may not be able to access or know how to examine. The mechanic should take off the wheels and inspect the brakes and wheel components, which can carry visible signs of flood damage. Buying a vehicle is a large investment. While consumers are always looking for a good deal, you want to purchase a safe and reliable mode of transportation, as well as one that is in good condition. If the dealership or seller is making a deal that sounds too good to be true, consumers probably should just walk away.”


 Trisha Gedon
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
Oklahoma State University
136 Agriculture North
Stillwater, OK  74078
405-744-3625 (phone)
405-744-5739 (fax)

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078