Regardless if you are purchasing a new or a used car, a car is an expensive investment. The benefit of purchasing a new car directly from the dealership gives you the security of a guaranteed product, but not everyone has the luxury, nor do does everyone want to purchase a new car.
Purchasing a vehicle from a private seller can lead to some of the best sales deals. Unfortunately, these deals can turn out to be plain fraud. Flood damaged vehicles are cars that have been repaired and placed back on the market by deceitful individuals and occasionally, businesses.
The trick behind avoiding the purchase of a flood-damaged vehicle is doing the right research to rule out a bad car and a dishonest seller.
A vehicle that has been involved in a flood is usually considered a total loss because the mechanical and electrical components of the vehicle are heavily damaged when submerged in water. After insurance companies total flood damage vehicles, the vehicles are sold to salvage companies. Salvage companies sell remaining usable parts, or whole vehicles, to buyers inside and outside of the United States.
Insurance companies, Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and consumer reporting agencies take proactive measures to document flood-damaged vehicles.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to do preliminary research on your new used vehicle is to obtain the vehicle identification number (VIN) and check its status via the Internet. The VIN is a 17-character letter and number combination that identifies all personal vehicles. Vehicles manufactured prior to 1980 are exceptions to this rule.
In some states, an owner of a flood-damaged vehicle can put the vehicle back on the road by taking out a salvaged title. A salvaged title becomes a permanent mark on that vehicle associated through the vehicle’s VIN number. Verifying the information associated with the VIN through the DMV and vehicle history reports, such as CARFAX, can be the first step in identifying a flood-damaged vehicle.
Signs of Flood Damage
You can also physically check the vehicle for signs of flood damage.
RUST – One of the most common signs of flood damage is rust in the interior of the vehicle; the interior is not usually exposed to the outside elements and in turn not prone to rust.
MOISTURE – The moisture from a flood soaked vehicle sets into seat cushions, upholstery, and carpets causing a recognizable stale mildew smell. Vehicle owners often try to cover up these smells by dousing the interior of the car with cleaners and deodorizer sprays. Mismatched upholstery and carpeting may indicate efforts to cover-up moisture, odors, dirt and stains.
STAINS – Deposits of dirt, waterlines, and water stains are often visible both inside and outside of the vehicle. Look for these flood remnants in isolated, hard to reach and clean compartments: under seats, under the hood, in the trunk, in wheel wells, and under the vehicle.
FLUIDS – Checking under the hood to verify the condition of the vehicle’s fluids can be another indicator of flood damage. Once water has mixed with the fluids necessary to power the vehicle, these fluids often do not maintain their same color and consistency.
TRAPPED MOISTURE – Fogging, or beading of water, inside interior components of the vehicle such as lights and dash instruments indicates trapped moisture. Make sure that all of the electrical and mechanical components of the vehicle work. Take the vehicle on a test drive and try all of the instruments in the vehicle.
While shady businesses exist in every industry, reputable auto sellers are in the business of creating lifelong relationships and ongoing sales. Legitimate business organizations will not con you into buying a faulty vehicle because they do not want to damage the company’s reputation, lose money, and acquire legal battles.
Personal auto sales are more likely to produce opportunity for fraud. Observing the seller, and how he conducts business, can identify a problematic seller and in turn product. If a seller is making you feel uncomfortable, trying to hurry you along, and potentially selling the vehicle for less than what it appears to be worth (if supposedly undamaged), consider these red flags signaling a problem.
Beware of deals that seem too good to be true: fraudulent sellers look to make a quick buck before you realize that you have been defrauded. A lower sale price maybe enough to entice a quick and easy cash transaction – you get a seemingly good deal, and the seller makes out with cash.
Combating Flood Damage Vehicle Sales
You can do your part in protecting yourself as a consumer, but that may not be enough. If in doubt, contact a local mechanic to inspect the vehicle. A mechanic can take it a step further in reviewing all of the vehicle’s operational components to include an expert visual inspection for aspects that you would not have thought to review.
Finally, be on high alert when purchasing a used vehicle in geographical areas that have recently experienced major flood events. Sadly, these catastrophic events lead to business savvy crooks to capitalize on the high volume of flood-damaged vehicles.