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Don’t take a bath on a flood-damaged car

Hurricanes and severe storms can bring misery to a lot of people. We’ve all seen recent images of houses and cars submerged in water. Have you ever wondered what happens to those cars once the floodwater subsides?

Unfortunately, a number of them will be turning up for sale on the internet or at car lots halfway across the United States, with no mention that they were saturated in dirty water not so long ago. Although some states require disclosure of flood damage or salvage on a car title, other states do not – so you may not be able to rely on the car title for that information. If you’re taking out a loan to buy the car, it’s important to understand the impact flood damage can have on the car’s value and consider whether it’s worth the amount you’re borrowing.

You should be a cautious buyer and check out the car carefully before you buy. (Since flood damage can be hard to spot, it’s a good idea to consider paying an expert mechanic to inspect it for you.) Below are a few simple steps you can take to help protect yourself.

See: if there are any high-water or mud marks on the engine, the wheel wells, the trunk or even the glove box. Get a flashlight and take a look in those hard-to-reach places that might not have been cleaned. Lift up the carpet and look underneath for mud, rust or dirt.

Smell: the upholstery and the carpeting. Do they smell funky? Also, turn on the heat and see if there’s an electric/burning smell that might come from damaged wires. And turn on the AC and see if you get a blast of mildew-scented air.

Feel: the wires under the dashboard and in the engine (obviously when the car is turned off!). Do they feel brittle? That may be the result of immersion in water.

Listen: to the sound system/radio. If it sounds bad or isn’t working at all, that could be a sign of water damage. Ask why it’s not working.

Ask: the seller outright if the car was ever in a flood. While they may not have volunteered the information, they may be reluctant to lie when asked directly.

Consider: buying a vehicle history report that should tell you if the car’s been in a flood or issued a salvage title.

Realize: this isn’t just an issue of a bad-smelling car. Floods can damage vital parts of a car like the air bag system, brakes, and electrical system – and the damage may not show up right away. Your safety could be at risk if you are unknowingly riding around in a flood-damaged car.

Buying a car is one of the biggest consumer purchases you’ll make. Don’t put your hard-earned money into a flood-damaged lemon. Once you’ve signed the contract you’re committed, so Know Before You Owe!

You can find more information from the U.S. Department of Justice and from the Federal Trade Commission’s Buying a Used Car and hurricane recovery .

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