How to spot flood damage before you buy a car

Thousands of cars damaged by floodwater often end up back on the market after disasters like hurricanes.

They can be repaired and resold, sometimes without the buyer knowing about the car’s history.

In Florida, it is legal for cars with water damage to be sold as long as the seller shares that info with the buyer. But there are cases when that does not happen.

But there are some things you can do to avoid getting into a regrettable situation.

Steve Tillman, a local car dealer and dealership owner, showed us three prime spots on a car you should inspect to see if it has any flood damage:

Under the hoodThe driver’s side, especially along the floorboardIn the trunk of the car

Tillman said he does not see it often, but he’s aware of people trying to sell cars with significant flood damage, passing them off to unknowing buyers.

“It breaks your heart. It is a sign of the times that we live in that the honesty and integrity can be bought and sold for a dollar bill. It is a shame,” Tillman said.

He said the spots to look for telltale signs are the bright, shiny metal on the driver’s side or in the trunk. Both would show damage if the car had been flooded.

“If it has been swimming, you don’t have to look real hard. It will show up,” Tillman said.

Also, be sure to check in battery compartments and under the spare tire for any kind of gray sediment. Tillman said it’s easy to spot if you look.

He said you can also check the vents and behind the cabin filter to see if there’s any residue.

Then there’s under the hood.

“You would see residue up against the firewall and in the back. You would not have this clean image,” Tillman said, demonstrating where to look around the engine.

According to IAA and Copart, two companies known for reselling used, wholesale and salvage title cars, more than 3,000 cars in Florida that have flood damage are on the market now or will be hitting the market this week.

A few things potential buyers can do to cover their bases are:

Review the car’s paperwork, like the title. If it experienced at least 75% water damage, it should say “rebuilt” on it or indicate the extent of damageTake the car to be inspected by a reputable mechanic before finalizing the purchase

Tillman said that people can sometimes get in trouble through casual sales.

“You own the car personally. I come and pay you for the car, and I get down the road, you have my cash, and then you find out (there’s something wrong),” Tillman said.

Another tool that can benefit a buyer is checking the National Insurance Crime Bureau to review the VIN number. That resource is used to crack down on any possible “title washing.”

The main thing, Tillman said, is just doing your due diligence before buying your new ride.

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