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How to Spot a Flood Damaged Car or Truck

Check all systems for signs of moisture before you buy


Most flood damaged cars, trucks and SUVs are sent to a salvage yard, but some are cleaned up and put back into the auto market, where they'll be bought by unsuspecting buyers who think they're getting a great deal.

Bottom line: water leaves lasting damage. Electrical and mechanical components will probably fail early. Mold and mildew aren't easy to eradicate. All warranties are void. Be on the lookout for these cars even if you don't live in a flooded area, because dishonest people move them around.

1. Inspect the Vehicle for Moisture and Dirt

Look for beads of trapped moisture within the dome light and other lights. Open the glove compartment, console and trunk and inspect those areas for any sign of dampness or the gritty dirt that's leftover from a flood. Check under the hood for accumulated dirt or signs of rust, and inside, don't forget to slide your hand under the seats to check for signs of moisture.

2. Take a Good Sniff

Do you smell a sour, mildewy-like odor inside the vehicle? Soaked seats, carpeting and other components are difficult to dry in a hurry, so there's plenty of time for mold and mildew to grow, especially if the flood occurred in a hot and humid location.

You might notice other odors associated with the location where the vehicle was flooded, such as the fuel and oil that spilled into flood waters after Hurricane Katrina.

3. Look for New or Mismatched Interior Components

Does the carpeting look brand new -- too new for the vehicle? Is it mismatched? Do seat covers seem out of place with the type and color of carpeting? Mis-matched components might have been installed in a hurry after the vehicle was pulled from flood waters.

4. Order a Vehicle History Report

Enter the vehicle's VIN number to or a history report from Carfax, which does a very good job of researching a vehicle's background. But remember... a clean slate is not a 100% guarantee that the car or truck hasn't suffered water damage.

Look for signs that the car has recently been titled in multiple states, a clue that the owners are attempting to clean up a negative notation on the title, such as salvaged or totaled, by shuffling it into and out of areas where damage disclosures differ or do not exist.

5. Turn the Vehicle On and Go for a Drive

Turn the car on and check every electrical system possible, including the exterior and interior lights, the gauges, the clock, the audio system and the dash lights that display air bag and seat belt information. Take the vehicle for a drive and test electrical components again to make sure they work correctly.

6. Let Your Technician Examine the Car or Truck

Take the vehicle to a technician you trust and ask for a thorough examination. Experienced auto technicians see evidence of flood damage more often than most individuals do, so they know exactly which systems to check for evidence.

If the vehicle still has a new car warranty, the warranty is void if your dealer finds evidence of flood damage -- even if the damage is not listed on the title.

7. If in Doubt, Don't Take a Chance

If you suspect a car or truck has been involved in a flood, walk away from it... quickly, even if it appears to be a deal. The money you save on its purchase price will fade quickly when you start replacing components that fail and aren't covered by a new car warranty or service contract. Don't chance it -- find a car or truck you know is sound.

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