by Erin Osgood
Nearly 10,000 vehicles have been totaled by recent floods in Texas, but many may end up back on Northwest roads.
How can this happen? According to a report by NBC, flood-damaged cars can be dressed up to look brand new, disguising the electrical and mechanical issues that inevitably lurk underneath. They’re then shipped off to different states, where varying laws and regulations can bury the evidence of damage on the title. It might take weeks or months for buyers to realize what they are stuck with: a pretty, shiny vehicle that is essentially rotting from the inside out.
Northwest drivers are especially prone to this kind of scam. Most big floods happen far away from our homes, so we don’t even think about how the consequences might affect us. Unfortunately, some shady used car dealers have figured this out and use our lack of awareness to make a quick buck.
I learned this the hard way when I was buying my first car during college. I spent months scouring the lots for something equally functional, stylish, and within my price range. Finally, I found the car of my dreams- and for thousands less than I expected to pay!
But of course, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. I took the vehicle to a mechanic for a pre-buy inspection, where he revealed all kinds of damage that I never would have noticed. His ultimate diagnosis? My perfect, precious future car was likely just debris from Hurricane Sandy, and I was the second case he’d seen that day.
My story proves we’re not helpless to scheming dealers. Before you even test drive your potential new car, look for these telltale signs of water damage:
- Remove a door panel and look for a well-defined water mark on the interior. Dealers can replace carpets and upholstery easily, but this space is harder to clean.
- Flex the wires under your dashboard. If they bend or crack, it’s likely they have been submerged in water and become brittle upon drying.
- Examine any unpainted metal for signs of rust.
- Start the ignition and make sure all of the lights on the dashboard work. Pay special attention to the ABS and airbag lights.
If it passes the test, schedule a pre-buy inspection with a trusted mechanic. It will cost you a few dollars, but it’s a small investment in your safety and long-term finances.
With any luck, you’ll be cruising in your new ride for years to come!