Hurricane Ian Flooded Many Cars. Don’t buy one

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  • The main damage from Hurricane Ian was the people of Florida and the Carolinas, but an unknown number of cars were also flooded by a major storm last weekend.
  • If you’re shopping for a used car in the coming months, you don’t want your vehicle to be flooded, especially without knowing that the car has been swimming.
  • Below, we list four steps to take if you suspect the car you are buying may have been involved in a flood.

Hurricane Ian hit Florida last weekend, leaving at least 100 people dead and millions in property damage. Before disappearing, Ian dropped more water in North and South Carolina. We don’t know yet how many vehicles were destroyed in the storm, but at least one McLaren P1 gets carried away by rising water. By comparison, when Hurricane Ida hit several states, from Louisiana to New York, it damaged about 212,000 cars, according to Carfax.

Once the car has had a chance to dry and go through cleaning, the fact that it was submerged can be difficult to notice. Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog at US Public Interest Research Groupnotified Car and Driver There are many ways the savvy shopper can view a previously flooded car. There are many more reasons why you don’t want to end up with a flooded vehicle, he says.

“You don’t want any part of the vehicle to get flooded, no matter if the damage is uncovered and no matter what warranty you get from the seller,” Murray said. “If you suspect a vehicle has flood damage, go ahead. Don’t be tempted to roll the dice. You’ll almost certainly buy a headache and just waste your money.”

Hurricane Ian hits Florida's west coast

Gerardo Mora|Getty Images

What If Your Car Is Flooded?

Murray says there are several ways owners handle flooded cars. If they have insurance and the vehicle is more than 75 percent damaged, the insurance company will take over and replace the owner. These cars may end up in the used car market, but they will come with a red flag of salvage titles. Owners without insurance may try to sell their flooded vehicle if water does not render the vehicle undrinkable, and it is up to the owner to disclose what happened to the car. Some will and some won’t. Even if the seller informs the potential buyer that the vehicle serves as a boat briefly, the full extent of the damage may not be apparent, which brings us to the cautionary part of the story.

Steps to Find a Water Damaged Car

With your favor Federal Trade Commission and PIRG, here are some things to look for if you suspect you’re looking at a vehicle that was previously flooded:

  • Check visual clues. It may not be visible at first glance, so check under the seats and dashboard for mud or sand. Carpets may be loose, stained, or mismatched. Is there moisture in the headlights? Are many components too new for the car? Rust around doors, especially near fasteners such as screws, can indicate that the car is spending time underwater.
  • Use your nose. Signs of mold or decay in the cabin or luggage area are a warning sign, and a strong smell of cleaning products may just be trying to cover something up.
  • Do some research. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) offers free, searchable database a vehicle identification number (VIN) which may be a salvage right even if the seller is not forthright about the car’s past, as long as the car was insured when the damage occurred. Check if the vehicle is registered in Florida or Carolina at this point. The federal government also operates the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), which provides: free historical information about a vehicle. NMVTIS offers more detailed information, including accident and repair history, for a fee.
  • Ask for help. If you’re not sure but really want the car, ask an independent mechanic to have it checked. A mechanic may be able to spot signs of water damage in the powertrain or electrical system that you didn’t see for yourself.

Lastly, be a good citizen and report fraud. The NICB, FTC, and state attorneys general received tips about fraudulent characters selling flood-damaged vehicles without revealing what happened.

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