Storm-Ravaged Vehicles and How to Avoid Buying Them

11:33 AM, Sep 12, 2019

Used car shoppers should always be on the alert for water-damaged cars being offered for sale. Flood damage might not be as obvious as it could be in upholstery and carpeting. Flood water — corrosive and abrasive mixture of water and dirt — can work its way throughout a vehicle and can be especially damaging to electronics, lubricants, and mechanical systems. That could call for extensive disassembly for a thorough cleaning and reconditioning.

Some cars damaged by severe flooding can still run. However, this does not necessarily mean they are safe. Flood-damaged cars can be dangerous, from having ruined engines and electronics to airbags that don’t properly deploy.

Although such cars are most likely to turn up in states affected by coastal and river flooding, they can find their way to used car dealerships nationwide.

Here are some ways to avoid buying them:

Check the vehicle’s history report.

Check the title history of any pre-owned vehicle by running its vehicle identification number VIN (located on the driver’ side dashboard) through CarFax, Experian’s Auto Check, the National Insurance Crime Bureau's VinCheck or the National Motor Vehicle Title Information Center to see if it’s been reported as having been flooded or salvaged, suggests Pam Hansen Alfred, a State Farm agent in Great Falls. Various sources report flood and damage information to such services, including insurance companies and state Departments of Motor Vehicles.

Never buy a used car with a lost or missing title.

Examine the vehicle.

Check the interior and engine compartment for evidence of water and grit. Recently shampooed or replaced carpeting or freshly cleaned upholstery might have been performed subsequent to flooding.

Pull up a corner of the carpeting to check for water residue or stain marks, signs of rust, and evidence of mold or a musty odor.

See if there’s water still hiding in the dashboard and interior storage cubbies. Check under the dashboard for brittle wiring and evidence of dried mud. Look for rust on screws in the center console or other areas that might have been submerged.

Open the hood and look for mud, water residue, or rust in crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around recesses in and around components. Look for water or signs of condensation in the headlamps and taillights, on the instrument panel gauges, and even within the overhead dome light. Check the wheel wells, and around the doors, hood and trunk panels for evidence of rust.

Get it inspected.

Have a qualified mechanic inspect the vehicle before buying to gauge its overall mechanical condition and to determine if it in fact has hidden water damage.

If there’s any suspicion the car might have flood damage, you might want to walk away from any deal.

Still, for some purposes, a storm-ravaged vehicle might be a good match for your needs, says Hansen Alfred.

“A vehicle that was totaled by hail for your kids to drive because you can pick it up for next to nothing and who cares if there are a few hail bumps in the car because by the time your young driver gets done driving that vehicle, there’s going to be more bumps than what it started with, she says “That might be the perfect vehicle to buy.”

Pam Hansen Alfred’s office at 2817 10th Avenue South in Great Falls provides auto, home, business, property, life and health insurance. The Great Falls native has been a State Farm agent since 1986, and has a team ready discuss your coverage needs at 406-453-6010 or 800-823-3620.

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2817 10th Ave S
Great Falls, MT

Monday-Friday: 8:30am-5:30pm

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