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Southern Floods: Beware of Water-Damaged Cars

As major storms continue to swell the Mississippi River and its tributaries, it’s important to remind everyone how to spot a flood-damaged car when shopping in the used market.

Vehicles that have been under water can face serious mechanical or electrical problems down the line. Water could destroy vital computer, electronic seat, window and ignition-switch controls, the seat-belt pretensioners and electronics involved with the airbags. Replacing these components can cost thousands of dollars, according to Car Talk.

A car that’s had water rise and seep into the engine will end up being totally useless, says Car Talk. When the vehicle is started, the engine will hydrolock, causing important engine components to bend or break.

If a flood-damaged car somehow survives, an insurance company will likely declare it totaled and scrap it. But some states make it easy to get clean car titles, and unscrupulous car salesmen can use them to pawn off these once-waterlogged vehicles. After some aesthetic cleanup, it may be hard to tell that a car on sale is flood-damaged. But underneath, corrosion and mold can still make the vehicle dangerous.

Here are some tips to figure out if the used car you’re looking at has experienced flood damage:

  • 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 either 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 work. While the air conditioner is turned on, check for musty odors. 
  • Have the car inspected: Visit a trusted mechanic before you buy any vehicle