Avoid Buying a Flood-Damaged Car

A car sits in several feet of water in southwest Louisiana. (Brian Vander Brug, Los Angeles Times)

A car sits in several feet of water in southwest Louisiana. (Brian Vander Brug, Los Angeles Times)

Consumers may want to add hurricane damage to the list of things to look for when purchasing a used car. Of the approximately 2 million vehicles in the Gulf Coast region, it's estimated that 250,000 to 500,000 automobiles were severely damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It's unclear how many of these flood-damaged cars could potentially end up being repaired and resold throughout the U.S.

Vehicles that have been under water can have serious mechanical or electrical problems that may not be immediately evident. Unscrupulous sellers may attempt to erase the physical evidence of flood damage or hide a car's flood history by moving it through a state that doesn't require this information to be recorded on the title.

According to CARFAX, there are a number of things consumers can look for to avoid buying a waterlogged vehicle unknowingly:

  • Inspect the interior: Check the trunk, glove compartment and other storage areas, dashboard and underneath the seats for signs of sand, mud, moisture or rust. Check for frayed or cracked wires underneath the dashboard, and make sure all the gauges work.
  • Examine the interior fabric: Look closely at the upholstery and carpeting — if it doesn't match the interior or fit properly, it may have been replaced. Discolored, faded or stained fabric may indicate water damage.
  • Test electrical components: Test the interior and exterior lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, stereo, windows, mirrors, seats and cigarette lighter.
  • Try the heater and air conditioner: Make sure both the heater and air conditioner work. While the A/C is on, check for musty odors.
  • Have the car inspected: Visit a trusted mechanic for an inspection before you purchase any vehicle
Posted on 9/27/05