NEW YORK (MainStreet) — With all the rain that has ravaged the country recently – Hurricane Irene put many parts of the Northeast under several feet of water, and 10 inches of rain fell on New Orleans this week – it’s possible that used car you're looking to buy might have sustained some flood damage that you need to look out for.
“Once owners of damaged cars settle up with their insurance companies, vehicles are sometimes refurbished and resold, usually to an unsuspecting buyer in a state unaffected by the disaster,” notes Ron Montoya, consumer advice associate for Edmunds.com. “Electrical and mechanical problems can then surface long after the seller is gone, leaving the new owner with an unreliable car and no recourse against the seller.”
Luckily, Edmunds is out with a new list of tips to find out what, if any, water damage has impacted a car you want to buy so you don’t waste your hard-earned cash on a fishing boat on wheels. After all, the average retail price of a used car is climbing, according to Cars.com, so it’s a savvy financial move to check for flood damage.
"A year ago, a 2007 Hyundai Elantra GLS with about 40,000 miles was listed for about $9,900," says Patrick Olsen, editor in chief of Cars.com. "Today, that same 2007 Hyundai Elantra GLS with a few thousand more miles has increased in price by $200. While most people would expect the value of their used car to drop year-over-year, what we’re seeing is that used cars are actually appreciating in value right now."
How can you be sure your new car isn’t all wet? Here are five tips:
- Get a vehicle history report. The easiest and best way to check a car’s flood condition is through a vehicle history report. That’s done hassle-free at companies like Carfax and Experian’s Autocheck. Both services specifically check for flood damage. Look closely for a “flood title” or a “salvage title.” Both indicate heavy damage to the car.
- Check for mold. When you get a chance to kick some tires and see the car, make sure you look for musty or moldy odor inside the car. Trust us, you’ll know it when you smell it. If you’re not sure, or not up to it, bring a mechanic or an insurance adjuster with you. Through experience, he or she will know if there’s a mold issue right away.
- Look for discolored carpeting and upholstery. It might take a trained eye, so you may need to lean on your mechanic or insurance adjuster, but even if you have to pay them, it will be worth it. Either should know right away if there is any discolored carpeting or upholstery that got that way through flood waters. Also have them check for dirt build-up in hidden areas (like in the trunk).
- Check for rust. Rust never sleeps, especially after a flood. Signs of rust are a definite red flag in the first place, and you’re taking a huge risk buying car that’s already started to flake some metal. If the rust is in the undercarriage of the car, that’s usually a reliable sign there has been water damage.
- Headlamp “fogging”. If your car’s headlamps look a little cloudy – Edmunds calls it “fogging” – you could be looking at extensive water damage. Again, a trained auto professional is worth a few bucks if you suspect your car’s lights are in a fog.
Nobody wants to buy a car that’s been damaged by rain. Use the tips listed above – and bring that mechanic or insurance pro along for the inspection – to make sure you don't get soaked on a used car deal.
Have you recently been a victim of a flood or other natural disaster? You may be able to get the damage covered using MainStreet's 7 Tips to File a Post-Irene Insurance Claim!