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A Warning About Flood-Damaged Vehicles

November 9, 2012, 9:50 PM by Angela Kennecke

A Warning About Flood-Damaged Vehicles

We've all seen the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it's wreaked on the East Coast.
But if you're not careful, you could end up feeling some of its effects as well when you go to buy a used vehicle.

The hurricane damaged thousands of cars, but not all were total losses. 

When Sandy hit the East Coast, about the last thing most people are thinking about is, "what happens to all those thousands of cars damaged by flooding?"  They could end up in a used car lot near you.

"The deceiving part about this after we've forgotten about the flood or whatever or it's not top of mind anymore, those vehicles can still show up.  So it's just important any time you're going to purchase a vehicle to have it checked out," Marilyn Buskohl of AAA South Dakota said.

AAA South Dakota is warning consumers to watch out for flooded-out vehicles that have been cleaned up and put back on the market.  The damage may not always show up on the title. 

"We've seen flood cars come in, depending on the mechanic who cleaned it out, things will look okay, but then technically they aren't," Mechanic Tom Broadbent of Airway Services said.

Your best bet is to have any used car you're thinking about buying checked out by a mechanic. 

"The first thing I look for is any kind of body damage; look from the bottom side up.  If there's no body damage, start checking the vents.  There are vents on the bottom side of the doors to drain out rain water.  Are they plugged up with mud and dirt?  They really shouldn't be," Broadbent said.

While a damp musty odor is an obvious sign a car may have been through a flood, new upholstery and carpeting can also be a sign, especially if it's in an older model vehicle. 

"What we run into mostly is cars that come from salty areas, salt water areas.  You get brake lines, fuel lines that are metal that will corrode terrible and repairs are astronomical on that stuff," Broadbent said.

And some of those problems caused by flooding can show up long after you've purchased the vehicle.

You should also get a vehicle history from a service like CARFAX.  While the damage should show up on the title, if it doesn't, you can at least see whether the vehicle is from an area affected by flooding.

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