An estimated 250,000 vehicles were damaged by Hurricane Katrina -- and about half of them wound up back on the market. So, it is likely many of the cars still drying out from June's river flooding also will be found soon as bargains on auctions and on-line. Ditto any vehicles that will be damaged by this year's hurricane season, just now beginning.
Don't get soaked by buying a soaked car. Simply, they are dangerous -- too dangerous to own and drive. Today's cars have more computer circuitry than the original NASA rockets, and dried out circuitry rarely works the way the engineers intended. Just ask anybody who has ever knocked over the morning coffee or evening martini onto a computer keyboard, or even a cellphone. Water and computers -- not a good combination.
Ditto, water can permanently damage airbag and anti-lock brake systems. Even after the water has dried, and the smell of rotting fish or rotting garbage has aired out of the upholstery and carpeting.
So how do you avoid buying a flood-damaged vehicle? Don't think that because you live in a 'dry' state that you are safe. The creeps and con artists who re-sell flood damaged cars move them to a different part of the country, even out of the country. Here's what to look for:
- Check the trunk, glove compartment, the dashboard and below the seats for signs of water damage such as silt, mud or rust. Examine upholstery and carpeting closely; if it doesn't match the interior or fits loosely, it may have been replaced. Discolored, faded or stained materials could indicate water damage.
- Turn the ignition key to make sure accessory and warning lights and gauges come on and work properly. Ditto airbag and ABS lights.
- Test all the lights, both interior and exterior, plus windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner. And check them several times to make sure they work.
- Flex some of the wires beneath the dashboard. Wet wires often become brittle upon drying and may crack.
- Take a deep breath and smell for musty odors from mildew.
- Go to a trusted mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. Always get vehicles checked BEFORE handing over any money.
This may be the most important tip of all -- Ask to see a detailed vehicle history report. CARFAX Vehicle History Reports can reveal many hidden problems from a vehicle's past, including flood titles and will indicate if a vehicle has been titled/registered in at-risk areas during flood and hurricane seasons. If the seller does not offer a report, use the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) available on the dashboard to check the car's history at carfax.com.
And remember, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.