When shopping for a used vehicle, you never know what you're getting into. If you're lucky, you can get a used vehicle report on your car. But these aren't always up-to-date. Your best defense against buying a lemon is to know what to look for and check for signs of major damage yourself. Here are some tips that will help you detect a flood-damaged car.
Look for dirt and evidence of water. Water from a flood will leave physical clues on a flood-damaged car. You can detect flood damage on a car by looking for moisture and dirt on the car and in its parts. Look closely at the headlights to see if there is moisture inside of them. Inspect the glove box, trunk, console and even under the floor mats. You'll also need to look under the hood of the car to see if the flood penetrated the engine. Water, dirt and rust under the hood are all indicative of a flood-damaged car.
Give the car a good sniff. Your nose might be the first to alert you of a flood-damaged car. It will smell like mold and mildew if it has been immersed in flood waters. Such damages are hard to repair quickly too, since carpet and upholstery aren't quick to dry. This leaves a musty smell in the car and especially on the fabrics. If something smells fishy about the car, steer clear. It was likely damaged by a flood.
Look for obvious repairs and replacements. After a flood, a sneaky salesman may try to hide evidence of flood damage by replacing flood-damaged components of the car. Take note of any mismatched fabrics, parts or other details in the car. Ones that have been replaced will stand out as being new and shiny when compared to the original interior parts. Beware of the reasoning given for a used car with an ‘all-new interior'.
Go for a quick drive. You can quickly answer your concerns about whether or not a car is flood damaged by turning it on. Test that every electrical system works properly, and that no water (or moisture) seeps from any of the vents or openings. Take the car for a drive and double-check that everything works as it should. Otherwise, it could be evidence of a flood damaged vehicle.
Take the car to a licensed mechanic. If you don't trust your own judgment, take the car to a professional. Have a licensed technician look over the car. Keep in mind that if the vehicle is still new or under warranty, any evidence of flood damage detected by a technician automatically voids the vehicle's warranty. This is definitely something you need to look into before purchasing a used car. No matter how new the car may appear, it's always a good idea to have a professional confirm that it is flood-free and still under warranty.
Get a Vehicle History Report. As a final safety precaution against buying a possibly flood-damaged car, request a vehicle history report from Carfax. All you will need is the VIN (vehicle identification number) to get a complete history on all accidents that car has been in, and any repairs or recalls it has been through. Keep in mind that Carfax isn't guaranteed to list all damages the can has endured. If the title has changed several times, it may be evidence that the previous owners are trying to hide the fact that the car has had severe damage by moving in and out of different states where reporting used car issues might be as strict. And some repairs may have been missed by Carfax as a result of all the title-shuffling. Make sure you purchase a report from Carfax, but don't rely on it solely when you are making a decision about whether or not a car has been flood damaged.