Buying a used car? How to spot a flood-damaged vehicle following Hurricane Ian

Floodwaters from Hurricane Ian have damaged thousands of cars in Florida — but not all of them end up in the scrap yard.

In the weeks following natural disasters like Hurricane Ian, damaged cars can end up miles away from the path of the storm in a used car lot.

CARFAX says that an estimated 400,000 cars on the road have some flood damage, according to KTVK.

Here are some tips from CARFAX for what to look out for before you drive that car off the lot.

Use a reputable car dealer

CARFAX recommends finding a well-established car dealership when purchasing a used vehicle. Family-owned dealerships that have operated from the same location for decades tend to be focused on reputation instead of making a quick dollar.

Take it to a mechanic

While it will cost you a few dollars, take the used car to a mechanic who knows how to spot water damage or hidden electrical issues caused by flooding. They also know how to remove parts of the vehicle that might hide the damage.

A mechanic can also raise the vehicle on a lift to see what condition the frame might be in.

Sniff test

One of the easiest ways to detect water damage is to use your nose. When you find a vehicle you’re interested in, close all the doors, roll up the windows, and wait a few minutes. CARFAX recommends bringing a friend or family member with an excellent nose to detect the odor.

Be wary of cars that smell too good or have the windows opened when you check them out. Some try to cover the smell of mildew and mold with air fresheners.

Feel for moisture and examine the fabric

Feel under the seats to see if it’s damp in places where you can lift the carpet or floor mats, and look for evidence of water. If you notice that the upholstery doesn’t match, is loose, or some of it has noticeably less wear, then it could have been damaged by flooding.

Inspect the instrument cluster and look for any trapped moisture or signs of discoloration.

Under the hood

Pull out the engine oil dipstick and look at the oil. CARFAX warns that if it looks murky, like melted chocolate, it might have a small amount of water in it.

Most air filters are easy to inspect, and a flood-damaged filter should be easy to spot. After removing its cover, look at the paper for deformation or water stains.

Check the body

Look for fogged-up headlights and tail lights. When a vehicle is submerged, water can come through the seals. Also, it’s a red flag if you see tiny holes in the covers that someone may have drilled to release trapped moisture.

From door jambs to springs underneath passenger seats, rust will show on any unfinished metal surfaces. Do a thorough rust check of anything that isn’t painted. If paint bubbles in an area that isn’t exposed to the elements, take a closer look; there might be rust underneath.

Test it in a drive

Most purchases include a test drive; here are a few things to look for when you turn it on.

  • Is there any smoke or new smells after starting?
  • Are there any strange noises, such as straining buzzers?
  • Check every electrical accessory to make sure it works properly
  • Listen to the car stereo. Does it sound like the speakers are working and are balanced

Want even more tips? Visit CARFAX for an exhaustive checklist here.

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