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5 Ways to Avoid Buying Flood-Damaged Cars

A used car is a great way to get around without breaking the bank—unless it has undetected flood damage. In that case, you could inherit problems like short-circuited electronics, overheated engines, and warped brakes–all of which could put your safety at risk.

Most used car dealers will disclose previous flood damage, but there are operators who omit mentioning such history, sending cars out for sale across the country. “The best thing to do,” says Pat Goss, host of “Goss’ Garage” on PBS’ MotorWeek, “is to avoid a flooded car at all costs.”

How can you check what you can’t see? Here are five ways to tell if a car might have been flooded:

Follow Your Nose

That new-car smell is a badge of honor—on new cars. But in a used vehicle, a heavy scent of air or fabric freshener, freshly shampooed carpets and brand-new seat covers may be cause for suspicion, not celebration. (An unmasked musty smell could also be a sign of water damage.)

Other red flags:

  • Loose, stained or non-matching upholstery or carpets
  • Damp carpeting (check the padding if you can)
  • Rust around doors, under the dash, on the pedals or inside the hood and trunk latches
  • Mud or silt in the glove box or under the seats
  • Brittle wires under the dash (try to bend them)
  • Fog or water droplets inside any lights or instrument panel
  • Moisture or sitting water in or around the spare tire
  • A new stereo (the original may have been replaced because of water damage)

Proper Paperwork

Be sure to obtain proper paperwork. First, obtain the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), then get a vehicle title history report from CARFAX or the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System ($3.50 at CheckThatVIN.com), or a free flood check from CARFAX. Plus, you can get a free VIN check from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Read Carefully

Check the title, ownership and repair documents for consistency. Titles with “Flood” or “Salvage” stamps are self-explanatory—but unscrupulous dealers might scrub them.

Test Drive

Make sure it runs and rides well, but be sure to inspect it well, too. For example:

  • Turn on the ignition and make sure all instrument panel lights work as well—and as brightly—as they should.
  • Test everything with a switch—interior and exterior lights (including high beams and any fog lights), air-conditioning, heater, defroster, turn signals, windshield wipers and radio.
  • Check under the hood (turn off the engine first!) to make sure leaves, mud or silt don’t show up in weird places like spark plug cavities.
  • Pull out the oil dipstick; if the oil looks murky—think melted chocolate ice cream—you could be facing a serious issue.
  • Inspect the paper air filter for signs of water stains.

Ask a Pro

It’s always smart to bring a used car that you consider buying to a mechanic whom you trust; GEICO has outlined five important questions to ask here. But besides inspecting the mechanical, electrical and other systems, make sure they also check for hidden signs of water damage. “We look for things that are not normal,” says Goss, who cites the telltale signs of dried grass, straw and mud inside doors or deep under the dash.

In addition, GEICO offers a buying service, TrueCar, that you can consider when buying a used car. Be sure to get a free quote on auto insurance from GEICO as well.

Article from https://www.geico.com/living/




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