Huge numbers of cars were flooded by Hurricane Sandy, and it's a safe bet some of their owners will try to recoup their losses by covering up the damage and selling them.
The problem with flooding, Fidan says, is the water leads to "electrical and mechanical issues that surface down the road."
The car might be fine for a while, but by the time the problems appear, it's too late to get your money back.
Until the creation of the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) in 2009, owners of damaged cars could get a clean title simply by registering the car in a different state. A prospective buyer would have no idea the car was ever flooded.
The new database combats the practice, called "title washing," by requiring all states, insurance carriers, and junk and salvage yards to report vehicle history reports. Before purchasing a used car, buyers can use the database to make sure they are aware of the vehicle's full history.
It's worth checking: In a Quora response to the question, "How do I tell if my flood damaged car is worth repairing?" Jason Lancaster, editor of AccurateAutoAdvice, confirmed the damage water can do to a vehicle:
But there's a loophole to the vehicle database, Fidan warns: If the owner of a flooded car does not file an insurance claim, the title remains clean. They may decide to cover up the damage and sell the car to an unsuspecting customer.
To help car shoppers in the wake of the storm, Fidan provided us with ten ways to tell a car has suffered flood damage:
Always have the vehicle thoroughly inspected by a mechanic. They should make note of any mud, dirt, or grime around the alternator, wiring harnesses, starter motors, and power steering pumps. (You should always get a vehicle inspected regardless of whether you're worried about flood-damaged vehicles or not.)
Look for discoloration on the carpeting, seats, seat belts, and door panels. Try to look for areas where standing water may have left behind a slightly different shade of color.
Look for vehicles that have replaced the upholstery altogether. That's a big warning sign.
Look for moisture on the inside of the instrument panel.
Smell for musty or moldy odors, especially from areas that may be hard to reach. Run the air conditioning to see if any odors come out of the vents. Also smell for strong cleaning chemicals or fragrances that are trying to mask the odor.
Check for fogging inside the head lights or tail lights.
Check the engine compartment and trunk to see if there is any indication of water lines.
Check the undercarriage and look for signs of rust or flaking.
Look for dirt buildup or grit around the seat tracks or under the glove compartment.
Check to make sure the vehicle identification number on the actual vehicle matches the paperwork.
For more car shopping tips, check out Fidan's RealCarTips.com.
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