Flood Damaged Cars
by John Davis
By all accounts, there have been many thousands of vehicles damaged by hurricanes and floods this year alone. So, the fear that some of those flood damaged cars might show up on a dealer’s lot near you is higher than ever. So, we asked our FYI reporter Yolanda Vazquez to see what industry experts say you need to look for to keep from getting soaked.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: The recent rain and heavy flooding means waterlogged vehicles like these will soon hit the market.
TOM WALLS: We knew there would be some out there—somewhere, takes sometimes, it takes them 3-6 months to show up on the market.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Tom Walls, president of Plaza Ford in Bel Air, Maryland is being extra vigilant. He makes his staff pull vehicle history reports. And conduct vehicle inspections before bringing any used cars on the lot. But even that won’t save him from getting soaked.
TOM WALLS: They’re still going to be some that slip through.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Like this 2000 Lincoln Town Car. It’s been partially cleaned to be sold at auction. A cursory look doesn’t reveal any significant water damage and therein lays the problem.
PAT GOSS: Flood damaged cars, there are ways to reconstruct them, to clean them up and so on, so they don’t look flood damaged.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Motorweek’s car guru, Pat Goss, shows me what to look for—starting in the trunk.
PAT GOSS: In here we can see a few stains where it hasn’t been cleaned yet.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: The muddy mark could be anything. Pat checks around the tailights and pulls back the trunk panels to search for debris. As soon as you pull that back.
PAT GOSS: Oh yeah the smell is horrible on this.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: A strong, musty smell means mold. We found plenty in the trunk, on the back seat- even along the door panels. Pat checks under the hood.
PAT GOSS: Even though this is a flood damaged car we have some really confusing information here.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: He says the corrosion on the engine isn’t a definitive sign neither is the rust and there isn’t any noticeable dry, brittled wiring. But the best way, he says, to discover true flood-damage is to put the car on a lift. Pat does a thorough inspection, pointing out debris in nooks and crannies--including this unusual accumulation of leaves. This is what you mean by gotta get underneath the car.
PAT GOSS: Got to get under the car. This is where you find the truth.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Industry experts warn that it’s not just used vehicles that succumb to water woes. This 2011 Ford F-150 looks brand new on the outside.
But inside is a different story. There’s caked up mud everywhere-along the door panel, in the air vent, in between the seat folds. This vehicle is being used for educational purposes but it’s a cautionary tale of buyer beware.
One of the biggest issues with flood damaged vehicles is the electronics. This right here is one of the truck’s computers. You can barely see it, but if we pull back the panel, you see all that wiring and the mud attached to connectors..it too has been damaged by water.
PAT GOSS: The result of that is you may have brake issues, you may have steering issues, the computer for the engine may go haywire and it’ll damage the engine, there’s just tons of problems like this.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Prospective buyers should also check the car’s title to see if it has been branded flood damaged.
BUEL YOUNG: We in Maryland put it down here. And as you see, it’s very obvious.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: Buel Young of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration says coding varies from state to state. His agency does their best to warn consumers.
BUEL YOUNG: For years we’ve had information on our website addressing this issue.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: A vehicle history report also provides flood damage information and there are government databases that identify waterlogged wrecks. A new California law marks cars with a red sticker if there’s a problem. Walls would like something more uniform.
GEORGE TAYLOR: There needs to be a national system somewhere. And the National Automobile Dealer Administration has been working on that diligently since Katrina-but they haven’t been able to get it through congress yet.
YOLANDA VAZQUEZ: So despite tighter controls and industry safeguards, consumers need to do their homework to avoid getting into deep water on their next vehicle purchase.