Hurricane Yan damaged 358,000 vehicles. How to avoid buying

Vehicles float in the water Sept. 29 in Bonita Springs, Florida, following Hurricane Jan.

Sean Rayford | Getty Images

If you’re planning to buy a used car in the next few months, be sure to check it for flood damage before signing on the dotted line.

Following widespread flooding in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina last month due to Hurricane Yan, the Carfax Vehicle History Reports website now estimates that up to 358,000 vehicles were damaged by floodwaters. Some of these vehicles will end up being resold as some 400,000 water damaged vehicles are currently on the roads after past floods.

“Floods cause all kinds of hidden damage that can show up months later,” said Teresa Murray, a consumer watcher with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Foundation.

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“You don’t want to have anything to do with a submerged car, regardless of whether the damage is disclosed and what kind of warranty you get from the seller,” Murray said.

Flooded cars ‘rot from the inside’

Buyers should study a used car history report to make sure they know what they are buying, no matter when or where they make the purchase, because flooded cars are often sold in locations far from where they were originally damaged. .

With services like Carfax or the National Crime Bureau’s VINCheck, you can enter a vehicle’s identification number or VIN and see if there is anything in its history that is alarming. However, these efforts alone cannot be final.

Not all headlines will reflect flood damage

“If you suspect a vehicle may have been damaged by flooding, move on,” Murray said.

According to Carfax, there are things you can look for in a used car that could indicate flood damage:

  • A musty smell in the cabin, which sellers sometimes try to block with a strong air freshener;
  • Upholstery or carpeting that may be loose, new, stained, or inconsistent with the rest of the interior;
  • Wet carpets;
  • Rust around the doors, under the dashboard, on the pedals, or inside the hood and trunk locks;
  • Dirt or silt in the glove compartment or under the seats;
  • Fragile wires under the dashboard;
  • Misting or moisture droplets in interior lights, exterior lights, or instrument panel.

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