Flooding damages thousands of cars each year. The National Insurance Crime Bureau estimated that more than 200,000 vehicles were damaged in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy alone. Even partially submerged cars can be unsafe to drive and costly, if not impossible, to repair.
Flood-damaged vehicles are typically given a salvage or flood title (depending on the state) and recycled for parts or crushed for scrap, but some end up on the used car market – and might end up in your driveway.
It’s important to be wary of a practice known as title washing, in which a car receives a new title that essentially washes away its damage history. Sellers can make a car with flood damage look nice, but hidden problems will eventually catch up to the buyer.
Follow these steps to avoid a car with flood damage:
- Choose a reputable car dealer.
- Smell for mold or mildew.
- Check upholstery and door panels for water stains or new or mismatched fabric/carpeting.
- Search the trunk and under carpets for dirt, sand and mildew.
- Scrutinize the seatbelts for mildew, water spots and dirt.
- Test electrical components, including windows, seats, blinkers, radio, A/C.
- Look for rust inside the hood and around doors, hinges and screws.
- Check for fog or moisture inside headlights, taillights and turn-signal lights.
- Get a free report on the vehicle. Visit NCIB’s website for a free VINCheck. Just type in the Vehicle Identification Number to find out whether the car you’re interested in buying was ever reported as a salvage or flood vehicle by insurance companies that belong to the NICB. Be aware that VIN fraud, where VIN numbers are switched or altered, can occur.
- Purchase a CARFAX report for even more detailed information about the car, including major accidents, number of previous owners, mileage rollbacks and manufacturer recalls.
- Have a mechanic do a thorough inspection.
For more information on auto, homeowners and other personal lines of insurance, contact your local AAA office.