Increase of Water-Damaged Cars in the Used Car MarketAs many as a million cars were likely damaged by the flooding that occurred as a result of hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida, and if past storms Katrina and Sandy are any indication—many of these water-damaged vehicles will be cleaned up and sold to unsuspecting buyers throughout the U.S., including Virginia. So how do you know if the used car you are looking at is one of these vehicles? Read our tips.

Start With the Vehicle Identification Number

The first thing to do is to check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to see if the car is from Texas, Louisiana, or Florida and to see if the title has been branded as water damaged. You can check the VIN for free at the following sites:

However, even if the VIN comes back clean, the report may not be accurate. Flood-damaged cars can be cleaned, taken out of state, retitled, and given a VIN from an undamaged car. To be sure the car you are buying is not damaged, you should have it inspected.

How to Spot Water Damage

Ideally, the used car dealership will allow you to have the car inspected by a qualified mechanic, who will be able to spot signs of water damage on the body and in the engine. If this is not possible, CARFAX recommends looking for the following telltale signs of a flood-damaged car:

  • A musty odor in the interior, which can sometimes be covered with a strong air-freshener

  • Upholstery or carpeting which is loose, new, stained or doesn’t match

  • Damp carpets

  • Rust around doors, under the dashboard, on the pedals or inside the hood and trunk latches

  • Mud or silt in the glove compartment or under the seats

  • Brittle wires under the dashboard

  • Fog or moisture beads in the interior lights, exterior lights or instrument panel

Even if a car seems to run fine at first, flood water damages the computer systems that control everything from the gas pedal to steering.

Once You Own the Car, It’s Probably Too Late

CARFAX estimates that there are currently 325,000 flood-damaged cars on the road today and this number is certain to grow. It is important that you take these steps to avoid buying a flood-damaged car because if you discover the water damage after you have bought it, there will be very little you can do about it. Used cars are sold “as-is” and it is up to you to determine the condition before you pay and take possession. If you have questions about your car, call The Consumer Law Group today


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