How To Avoid Flood-Damaged Vehicles

Flood-damaged vehicles have always been among the top problems for used car buyers to avoid. These vehicles may be cleaned, dried out, and offered for sale in another area. Do not be fooled by a license plate from your state. Since some states allow the transfer of plates, buyers must know what to avoid when it comes to flood-damaged vehicles.

It's Not a Boat

The reason flood-damaged vehicles are not ideal for purchase is that engine, fuel, transmission, brakes, interior climate, and other control systems may be damaged. In addition, although the interior of the vehicle may be dry on the surface, moisture deep down in the seats can cause rotting.

Cars and trucks were not meant to be submerged in water. Potential damage to flooded vehicles can show up in:

  • Vehicle electronics, including critical engine controls or brake signals
  • Dash boards, as damage or rotting
  • Safety systems, such as airbags and sensors
  • Interior carpet, upholstery, or a roof that is still moist from being soaked
  • Parts and components that are rusted and corroded, including braking and suspension systems

Even if a vehicle isn't dripping, this does not mean it hasn't been flooded. A car or truck does not need to be obviously affected by water damage to have problems. Flooding can take months or even years to have an effect, leaving buyers holding the bag when the damage appears.

Water Inspection

Anytime you are buying a new or used vehicle, you should give it a thorough check and complete test drive. Buyers of new cars are far less likely to encounter a flood-damaged vehicle, but stranger things have happened.

As for buyers of used cars, they must be especially cautious of flood-damaged vehicles. However, there are resources to help you avoid such vehicles. For example, it is a good idea to check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of a vehicle you are considering buying. You can do this by running a vehicle history report. 

If you are not savvy about vehicles, you may consider a check from a trusted mechanic. There are also some signs of flooding that you can easily check for, including the following:

  • Signs of mud or silt on the exterior, including wheel wells.
  • Signs of mud, silt, water, or moisture on the interior, including in the glove box and dashboard.
  • Signs of mud, silt, or a water line on the interior of the trunk or engine compartment.
  • Moisture or water line in signal lamps
  • Sellers who are reluctant to let you see the engine, trunk, or any part of the vehicle.

For more tips on spotting a flood-damaged vehicle, please see the National Automobile Dealers Association website.

While most states offer Lemon Law protection to buyers of new vehicles, there are seldom such assurances with a used vehicle. Furthermore, some states do not require any grace period with used car purchases. Once you hand over your money or sign a deal, you have no recourse. This highlights the need to thoroughly inspect any vehicle you may be considering prior to purchase.

If you do feel you have purchased a vehicle that was damaged from flooding, and the seller did not disclose this fact to you despite your inquiries, you may want to contact an attorney to recoup your money. At the very least, if you suspect a vehicle you purchased is flood-damaged, you should have it checked out by an expert to make sure it is safe to drive, and report any fraudulent sellers to the authorities.

To learn more about how you can avoid buying flood-damaged vehicles, you can also contact the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

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