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’
Flood waters can destroy—sometimes slowly—electronics, lubricants, and mechanical systems in vehicles. Corrosion can eventually make its way into the vehicle’s vital electronics, including airbag controllers.
“The bottom line with these flood-damaged cars is that they are literally rotting from the inside out,” said Emily Voss, a spokesperson for Carfax.
“They may look good on the outside, but there may be mechanical, electrical, safety and health issues,” Voss said.
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
This is because not all flooded vehicles are registered as such, unless insurance company involved. When an insurance company receives a claim and the car’s value is assessed—meaning the repair will cost more than the car’s value—the car’s name is usually changed to reflect its status.
These wrecked cars are commonly sold at salvage auctions at junkyards and repair shops. Reselling them to consumers may break the law if flood damage is listed in the title.
But not all car owners file insurance claims. If they don’t have full coverage—the part of auto insurance that falls under flood insurance—they tend to be out of luck when it comes to coverage. Thus, without the participation of the insurance company, there may not be any official data on 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.