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Texas has the highest number of flood damaged vehicles in 2016 at 43,000.  And Houston is the dubious winner of the city with the most flooded vehicles in the same year – 19,314.  So, what happens to those damaged cars?   Surprisingly, according to recent research by Carfax, more than 250,000 flood damaged cars are resold.

By definition, a flood vehicle has been completely or partially submerged in water to the extent that its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical component parts have been damaged. If the vehicle is so damaged that it is no longer operable, the driver's insurance company settles the claim by buying the vehicle and selling it as a “salvage” at an auto auction, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Flood-damaged vehicles offer a tempting opportunity for unscrupulous dealers to defraud consumers.  Some states require that the words “salvage only” appear on vehicles with damage over 75% of its value.  The loophole is if the owner doesn’t have comprehensive insurance coverage, the vehicle may not get a “salvage” or branded title at all.  Or the dealer could switch or clone manufacturer’s serial number plates to conceal the damage.  And, of course, there’s an option to resell damaged cars in a state that has less strict title standards.

In recent years, some states in the hurricane-prone parts of the United States have adopted rules that require that the words “flood vehicle” be included on the titles of vehicles that have been water damaged and rebuilt. Before such a vehicle can be sold, the buyer must be notified in writing of the vehicle’s past flood damage. However, if another state doesn't have such strict laws, it can become a dumping ground for undeclared flooded vehicles.

Signs of Flood Damage

  • Water stains and mildew mean the vehicle may have gone for a swim.
  • Strong air freshener in the car could be a cover up for musty odor.
  • Upholstery or carpeting that is loose, new, stained, or doesn’t match. Brand-new carpet in an older car can be an important red flag.
  • Rust around doors, under the dashboard, on the pedals or inside the hood and trunk latches.
  • Fog or moisture beads in the interior lights, exterior lights, or instrument panel.

Inspect the Vehicle

  • Test the interior and exterior lights, air conditioning, windshield wipers, radio, turn signals, and heater repeatedly.
  • Check the seat-mounting screws to see if there is any evidence that they have been removed. To dry the carpets effectively, the seats must be remove and possibly even replaced.
  • Look at the heads of any unpainted, exposed screws. Unpainted metal will show signs of rust.
  • Check inside the seatbelt retractors by pulling the seatbelt all the way out and inspect for moisture, mildew, or grime.
  • Under the hood, check the engine oil by pulling the dipstick. When oil mixes with even a small amount of water, it becomes murky like a melted chocolate milkshake. 
  • Carfax offers a free flood damage check in addition to its for-pay history reports.
  • Get the car checked thoroughly by a trusted mechanic.
  • Trust your instincts. If you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away.

Dean and Draper

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