Consumer Reports: Cars swamped by storm waters might return to market

Flood-damaged cars, trucks and SUVs sold without disclosing the damage is illegal in most states, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. (Consumer Reports TV)

Flood-damaged cars, trucks and SUVs sold without disclosing the damage is illegal in most states, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

“Too often, when an insurance company declares a flood-damaged car a total loss, that information isn’t communicated to potential buyers,” Jon Linkov, a Consumer Reports auto editor, said.

Consumer Reports found that some flood-damaged vehicles are sold with clean titles, meaning a flood-damaged car could easily find its way back into the used-car market. If a car doesn't carry maximum insurance, flood-damage may not be disclosed in the car’s title.

Consumer Reports notes that a mechanic should conduct a thorough inspection, but there are things you can do, too.

“The first thing you want to do is come over to the front of the car,” Linkov said. “Inhale and see if there’s any kind of moldy or musty smell. If you have that you definitely want to walk away from the car.”

Next, Linkov said to pop up the trim panel on the side of the door to see if carpet is dirty, or if there’s any kind of sediment in there or rust.

"Also, look in the door pockets. If there’s any kind of sediment or dirt or stones, that’s what happened when the water came up and into the car, and as it drained away it settled and hid in there," he said. "Pop off some of the caps and covers for the seat bolts. If these are scratched up or even look rusted, that means the seat was taken out so it could air dry."

Linkov went on to say you should check where a spare tire would be kept. If it’s got sound deadening, smell if it’s musty or moldy smelling. See if there’s any rust on exposed screws, on the panels, or even on the tools like the jack or the jack stand.

"Look along the back of the engine bay, and there’s some soft material, it’s sound deadening," he said. "When water rose and stays when the car is flooded, it’s going to recede and leave a flood line. If there’s anything like that, walk away from the vehicle.”

Consumer Reports said vehicle history reports are no guarantee that a car is problem-free.

In the wake of the devastating hurricanes, let the buyer beware of flood-damaged vehicles hitting the used car market.

“If you have that, you definitely want to walk away from the car,” Linkov said.

Consumer Reports shows you the signs of a flood-damaged vehicle, and how to check yourself before you drive it out of the lot.


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