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Beware of Flood-Damaged Cars from Recent Hurricane-Hit Areas

In the wake of devastating Hurricane Ian that hit Florida and South Carolina, car experts are warning used car buyers that cars damaged by strong flooding in these states could show up in auto auctions, used car dealerships and online ads. Many flood-damaged cars are often sold in Iowa and other states not impacted by flooding.

Floodwaters can destroy or severely damage the electronics, lubricants, and mechanical systems in vehicles. A car’s vital electronics, including airbag controllers can eventually become corroded.

If a car's title is either stamped salvage or arrived from an area recently hit by flooding, ask questions. Consumers should also be aware flood damage will not always show in the vehicle’s title, since not all car owners file an insurance claim for fear the insurance company will deem the vehicle totaled. To avoid this, some car owners and even untrustworthy car dealers will clean the car and sell it.

Since used car prices have increased, some by nearly 50% from pre-pandemic levels, it is wise to review signs of a flood-damaged car. Consumer Reports offers the following ways to spot telltale signs of a flood-damaged car:

  • Inspect the carpets to see whether they show signs of having been waterlogged, such as smelling musty or having caked-on mud. Brand-new carpets in an older vehicle may be another red flag.
  • Check the seat-mounting screws to see whether there’s any evidence that they were removed. To dry the carpets effectively, the seats must be removed and possibly even replaced.
  • Inspect the lights. A visible waterline may still show on the lens or reflector.
  • Inspect the difficult-to-clean places, such as gaps between panels in the trunk and under the hood, for mud and debris.
  • Look on the bottom edges of brackets or panels, where grime wouldn’t settle usually.
  • Look at the heads of any unpainted, exposed screws under the dashboard. Bare metal will show signs of rust in flooded cars.
  • Check to see whether the rubber drain plugs under the car and on the bottom of doors look as if they have been removed recently. That may have been done to drain floodwater.

Buyers should also check a used car’s vehicle history report. Visit CARFAX or the National Insurance Crime Bureau and input the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) to see if there is anything in its history that is suspicious. CARFAX offers a free Flood Check tool at carfax.com/flood with a nationwide map showing where flood cars originated, and also includes list of signs of flood damage. Additionally, is it always good to have the vehicle checked by a trusted mechanic to make sure nothing has slipped by unnoticed.

When in the market for a used car, stop by Carousel Preowned. CarouselPreowned serving Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, North Liberty, Marion, and Coralville, IA, is proud to be an automotive leader in our community. We do our best to ensure your complete satisfaction every time you step into our car dealership. This is why we offer the widest selection of used and pre-owned cars, trucks, and SUVs and provide true ease of purchase in Iowa.

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