If a car deal smells too good to be true, it probably is. An excess dousing of air-freshener in a bargain-priced vehicle with a for-sale sign tucked in the window could be masking telltale mold and mildew, signaling that a supposed creampuff is actually a dangerous “flood car” shipped from the Harvey and Irma hurricane zones to be sold to unsuspecting buyers.
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Nearly one million vehicles sat soaking in polluted high water when a year’s worth of rain fell on Houston within four days and record-setting saltwater storm surges engulfed Jacksonville, Fla., Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga. A saltwater bath has more of a bite to it as it can eat through numerous metals, but freshwater is equally troublesome.
A car could have been dried out, minimally fixed and able to fire right up, yet gremlins can lurk within the tiniest corroded electrical contact – causing key components to suddenly fail without warning. A dysfunction afflicting safety features such airbags and anti-lock brakes can render a deadly outcome.
According to the Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair (CCAR), “There is no recommended method or procedure to restore submerged vehicles from flooded-affected areas to pre-accident condition.”
“Our data shows there’s still much work to be done in helping consumers avoid buying flood-damaged cars,” says Carfax President Dick Raines. “They can, and do, show up all over the country, whether it be a few miles or hundreds of miles from where the flooding occurred. With two devastating storms already this year, it’s vital for used-car buyers everywhere to protect themselves from flooded cars that may wind up for sale.”
Historically about half of the vehicles damaged in a given flood eventually end up in the used-car marketplace, Raines reports.
Under appropriate circumstances, a car’s flooded status is duly documented on the title via insurers, state DMV officials and other authorities, and then typically designated for the crusher. Or a scrap yard if undamaged parts are present. In certain situations, a flooded car can be legitimately re-sold when its wet history is properly noted on the title and the buyer is fully informed.
With flood cars, unscrupulous fraudsters engage in “title washing” that falsifies a vehicle’s provenance to claim that it originates from a different state, thus disguising the fact that it was swamped by a flood.