2017 has seen a catastrophic hurricane season. First, Harvey devastated Texas, and then Irma and Maria slammed into Florida and the Caribbean. The storms left behind about 1 million flood-damaged cars. As these cars are cleared away, many will be sold at auctions, showing up on used car lots hundreds of mile away. Buyers who think they’re getting great deals will discover they bought huge, yellow, money-sucking lemons. Here are 5 things to research to make sure you’re buying a good car.
1. Do You Have a Good Title?
Most states, including Texas, Louisiana, and Florida require titles of seriously damaged vehicles to be “branded” or marked “salvage.” This applies to flood-damaged cars. However, in some other states, lenient titling laws make it possible for a scammer to get a clean title on a car previously marked as flood-damaged. Protect yourself by running a VIN check on any prospective purchase.
VinCheck is a free database you can check for accident or flood damage. You can also check AutoCheck or CarFax, which are sometimes free, but oftentimes require payment. If you’re buying a motorcycle, VinCheck also lets you run checks on bikes, but you can also look into CycleVin.
2. The Smell Test
Do you smell a strong, musty odor in the car? If you do, don’t buy it. Not only does it mean there’s probably mold growing in the car, but there’s likely other forms of water damage. If you smell a strong disinfectant or cleaner smell, it could be someone trying to cover up a musty odor. One way to be sure the car you’re buying doesn’t have issues, other than looking at the titles from VinCheck or CarFax, is to pull back the trunk panels and check the smell there.
3. Mold, Mud, and Rust
Check for mold, mud, and rust on the car. Good places to check for mold are in the trunk, underneath the car, door and trunk panels, headlights and under the hood. With mud, even after a car has been cleaned, mud and debris can still be trapped in places. Have the car put on a lift and check it thoroughly to see any evidence of mud caking in hard-to-see places. Look for signs of rust under the hood and on screws where you wouldn’t expect rust, like the glove compartment.
4. Electrical Damage
If the water only reached the floor boards, the car could look fine, but it could have serious electrical damage. This damage could cost more to repair than the car is worth. Electrical damage can easily make a car too dangerous to drive, since the possibility of an electrical failure causing a car accident is too high. You don’t want to be driving on the freeway when your Obstacle Detection goes on the fritz and applies the brakes suddenly.
5. Have the Car Thoroughly Inspected
It’s always a good idea to have any car thoroughly inspected before purchase, but it’s almost mandatory now. If you belong to AAA, ask about a AAA-approved mechanic. Even if the dealer certifies the vehicle, have your own inspection performed.
Flood damage can be hidden. Car lots across the country could soon have flood-damaged cars for sale without notice given to the buyer. Smart buyers need to beware. Don’t buy a water-logged lemon only fit for a crusher.
Author Information: Claire Stewart is a freelance writer and blogger focused on writing about health, travel, and business among other topics. She graduated from Washington State University with a Bachelors in Women’s Studies and currently lives in Seattle with her goldfish, Merlin.