Dear Car Coach: I was talking to a friend about buying a used car that was newer and he told me about the cars that were flooded in Hurricane Sandy, so what is the best way not to get one of these. My thoughts are that there was sewer water and God knows what else in the water, I think it was salt water too. How do I make sure not to get one of these cars?
– J.L., Hamburg
Dear J.L.: Yes, there was salt water, sewage and all kinds of bad water filled with oils and anything you can imagine. These flood-damaged vehicles can be very dangerous. Many have proven that certain safety systems such as anti-locking brakes, airbags and other electronic-based car control systems don’t work when you need them.
A warning should be posted from coast to coast Beware Online Car Dealers And E-Bay Power Sellers Promoting Flood Damaged Cars As Safe! These cars are not safe and many have even more serious issues. There is no reason to purchase these vehicles. They are good as parts for a scrap yard at best.
Flood-damaged cars are something that most of us don’t think about. Every time a hurricane or flood affects an area of the country, automobiles are damaged. Sadly many are not destroyed by insurance companies. Many sat in fields and are filled with e. coli and mold from the sewage and water. What is unreal is how many different ways this affects us all.
If you were fooled into buying one of these cars, you should know:
• There is no warranty from the manufacturer due to water damage.
• Many of these vehicles stop in the middle of the road unexpectedly.
• In an accident air bags may NOT deploy.
• Seat belts don’t function properly.
• Anti-lock brakes don’t work.
Even worse, is the accident risk that you are creating for yourself and anyone who rides in this car.
Sadly there are about 650,000 cars from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and an estimated 200,000 cars from Hurricane Sandy.
These cars really do get into the marketplace.
One insurance company recently settled a $40 million lawsuit when it was disclosed that the insurer had dumped almost 30,000 totaled cars at auction without bothering to have them retitled as salvage vehicles.
Many of the storm-damaged vehicles will be shredded into little metallic pieces.
However, others will end up in auctions or be sent to your state. This is called “washing titles.” Not all states print on the title what happened to that auto.
If in doubt – walk away from the deal.
Tips to avoid buying flood-damaged cars:
• First, buy from reputable dealers. You can find great vehicles buying from private sellers but beware of “curbstoners” – people who sell numerous cars claiming to be private sellers and therefore avoid basic government oversight and Lemon Law coverage.
• Avoid auctions – unless you are experienced with them.
• Check to make sure the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) match on the door sticker and the dashboard tag.
• Carefully inspect the inside of the car looking for watermarks on door panels, radiators, wheel wells and seat cushions.
• Look for rust in unusual places like door hinges, hood springs, under dash brackets and trunk latches.
• Turn on the air conditioning and heating and smell the air coming out of the ducts. If it smells musty or moldy or even like too much air freshener, it is most likely a flood-damaged auto and you should not buy it.
• Look for water and moisture inside exterior lighting.
• Beware of cars with new or mismatched upholstery.
• If the car has a paper air filter, check it for water stains.
• Ask the seller if the vehicle has had flood damage. Answers like “not to the best of my knowledge” or “the previous owner didn’t tell me of any flood damage” are red flags. Get the answer in writing with the bill of sale.
• Ask to see the title. If it is not stamped “flood” or “salvage,” get the car’s history through online sources to find out if this vehicle has come from a recently or previously flooded area of the country.
•Have a certified ASE technician inspect the vehicle before you make an offer.