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How to avoid buying a water-damaged car Advertiser Disclosure Advertiser Disclosure We are an independent, advertising-supported comparison service. Our aim is to assist you make smarter financial decisions by offering interactive tools and financial calculators as well as publishing unique and impartial content. This allows users to conduct research and compare information for free – so that you can make informed financial decisions. Bankrate has agreements with issuers, including but not limited to American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Discover. How We Make Money The offers that appear on this site are from companies that pay us. This compensation can affect the way and where products are displayed on this site, including such things as the order in which they may be listed within the categories of listing, except where prohibited by law. Our loans, mortgages, and other home lending products. However, this compensation will not influence the content we publish or the reviews you see on this site. We do not contain the entire universe of businesses or financial offerings that could be open to you. Luis Diaz Devesa/Getty images
5 min read Published June 22, 2022
Written by Mia Taylor Written by Contributing Writer Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation’s leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and Credit.com. The article was edited by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been writing and editing for Bankrate since late 2021. They are committed to helping readers gain the confidence to take control of their finances by providing concise, well-researched and researched information that breaks down complicated subjects into bite-sized pieces. The Bankrate guarantee
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You have money questions. Bankrate has answers. Our experts have been helping you master your money for over four years. We are constantly striving to give our customers the right advice and tools needed to make it through life’s financial journey. Bankrate follows a strict policy, which means you can be confident that our content is honest and precise. Our award-winning editors, reporters and editors provide honest and trustworthy content that will help you make the right financial choices. The content we create by our editorial team is objective, truthful and is not influenced from our advertising. We’re transparent regarding how we’re able to bring quality content, competitive rates and useful tools for you , by describing how we earn our money. Bankrate.com is an independent, advertising-supported publisher and comparison service. We receive compensation for placement of sponsored products or services, or by you clicking on certain links posted on our site. This compensation could affect the way, location and when the products are listed within categories, except where it is prohibited by law regarding our mortgages, home equity and other home lending products. Other factors, like our own proprietary website rules and whether the product is available in your region or within your own personal credit score could also affect how and where products appear on this website. We strive to provide a wide range offers, Bankrate does not include specific information on every financial or credit product or service. Auto buyers across the country may be impacted by devastating floods by knowingly buying water-damaged cars. New and used vehicles damaged by significant flood events, like the Hurricane Ida which hit 2021 in the year 2021 can find their way to the market in the aftermath of a storm. Carfax data shows that up to 212,000 vehicles could have been damaged by Hurricane Ida. When flood-impacted cars are resold to buyers who are not aware of the damage, they often have costly electrical and mechanical issues which surface months later. Even if you don’t live in a region in which flooding is common, you can still inadvertently buy a car with water damage. Carfax research shows that vehicles that have been damaged by water are present in every state, meaning that buyers from coast to coastline are in danger of buying damaged by flooding. What can you tell when a car has water damage Water-damaged cars can be hard to recognize. They usually look good and may even run well for a little while. Eventually, however you could be faced with problems because flooded cars begin to decay from the inside. Here are a few indicators that your car could be damaged by water: Musty odor: The interior of water-damaged vehicles will usually smell musty. Some sellers will try to cover up the smell using strong air fresheners but it isn’t easy to truly get rid of a car’s moldy aroma. One method to determine how a car smells is to lie inside and close the windows. Carpets that are damp or moist water damage may accumulate in areas you cannot immediately be able to see, like under carpeting. Take a look at the carpets in the car and then pat them in order to find any potential moisture buildup. Also, check the trunk taking off the spare tire to check for any water underneath it. Carpeting that is stained or unmatched carpeting: Yet another sign of water damage is a car that has stained or loose carpeting and upholstery. Check for brown, blotchy staining, which is a sign for water-related damage. In the course of inspections, compare carpeting on the floor with upholstery on the doors as well as the roof. All of them should appear to be of similar age and color. Rust: A vehicle with water damage could be rusty around the doors, inside the hood, and even under the dashboard. Screws, hinges for doors, trunk latches and even handles for doors could also be showing signs of rust. Brittle wires: Examine under the dashboard if you suspect a car may have water damage. Brittle wires could indicate that the vehicle was impacted by a water event of some type. Fog or moisture beads: If a vehicle’s interior lights and instrument panel, as well as exterior lights appear dim or have moisture beads inside them, consider it a warning sign that the vehicle could be suffering from water damage. Silt or mud buildup: In floods, specifically water can carry mud and dirt into vehicles. Once the flood is gone but the dirt remains. Some places to check for silt and mud are the trunk, glove compartment, under the dashboard, and beneath the seats. 4 ways to avoid buying the car that has been flooded. If you think that your car may be flooded or have flood or water damage it is important to do the research to determine whether your instincts are correct. There are many tools to assist you in getting to the root of this vital question, as well as indicators to watch out for. 1. Run a vehicle history report The process of running a car history report can uncover issues with a car before you buy. A sure sign of a water-damaged car can be seen in the way it is identified as the case. Departments of motor vehicle require permanent title marks on vehicles that were badly damaged by floods. If the vehicle is declared totaled, it is expected to receive a new title entirely which is labelled “salvage” or “flood.” Based on the state, however, this fact may be made clear by a numerical code. Carfax and Experian provide tools for flood checks which allow users to run an independent check on the history of a car. The platforms require only your VIN of the car that is being investigated. If you are looking over a car’s past take a look for vehicles originating from areas that have been damaged by floods. There is a National Insurance Crime Bureau also offers free online VIN checks that allow customers to determine if the car is salvaged. You will want to look at a vehicle’s history report to determine if the car was sold numerous times in an extremely short time. Be particularly leery of any history that includes buyers from multiple states. It could be a sign of what’s referred to as car “title washing,” where unscrupulous sellers retitle cars repeatedly in order to hide its past. 2. Look for evidence of water damage. Cars which are submerged by water usually have telltale signs, but they could be less obvious particularly if the car was cleaned prior to resale. Pay attention to the smell of mold or musty such as those emanating out of the control panel for the temperature. Note any stains that appear on the car’s interior or engine compartment, as well as on the trunk. Dirt, sand or mud in odd places , and seat belts that sound gritty when they are pulled or retracted are also indicators of water damage. It’s also important to test drive a vehicle in particular, particularly one that could be affected by flooding or water damage. Tips to look out for during a test drive include compromised electrical systems and infotainment systems that could be triggered if they’ve been impacted by water. Also, be on the lookout for signs of smoke during your test drive. 3. Be cautious of vehicles that are priced below market value. There’s a reason behind the adage about things being too excellent to be real. It’s the case with cars that are priced well below their worth, and this can be an indication that something is not right. Find the average selling price of the vehicle you’re thinking of buying at independent sites for pricing of vehicles like Edmunds and Autotrader. A car that is new or used that is priced lower than market value is a strong indication that the seller is eager to get rid of the car. Buyers should tread cautiously when a car is being advertised at a substantial discount. In addition to asking questions about why the car is being offered for a lesser price than it should be and why it is an excellent idea to have the vehicle looked at by a professional who will detect any issues. 4. Have a professional inspect the vehicle It’s always a good idea to employ a certified mechanic or automotive technician to go through and thoroughly inspect a car prior to you purchase it, but it’s even more crucial to do this in order to protect yourself from a possibly water-damaged vehicle. A professional can help ease your mind, especially if the car you are looking at has any of the warning signs listed below. Be sure that the inspection not only includes obvious indications of water damage, but also a thorough test of all the electronics equipment, as problems that are related to these systems may be a long time before they are discovered. Although a pre-purchase inspection generally be paid for by the buyer, it is money well spent if it prevents you from getting a car that is unsatisfactory. It is possible to pay anywhere from $100-$200 to have an inspection. What do you do if purchased a car that has been damaged by water If you’ve purchased a vehicle with water damage, all could never be destroyed. Repairs can be made to the car by contacting an experienced mechanic. However, remember that these aren’t DIY fixes. They will require an expert with a vast knowledge of cars. Also, keep in mind that repairing damaged vehicles after flooding will not be inexpensive, and you’ll want to determine whether it’s worth the cost. Especially since flood-damaged cars usually don’t have any selling value. The bottom line Flood-damaged vehicles are used in every state of this country. If you suspect a car may have been impacted by flooding or another sort of water related event, there are a variety of steps you can take including running a vehicle history report, examining for telltale evidence of water damage, and having the car inspected by a professional. Be aware that even if you aren’t in a region affected with flooding, it is possible that you could not be aware of a water damaged vehicle. Find out more
Written by Contributing Writer Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation’s leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and Credit.com. Written by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been editing and writing for Bankrate from late 2021. They are passionate about helping readers to control their finances by providing concise, well-researched and well-researched content that break down complex subjects into bite-sized pieces.
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