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Tips on how to avoid buying flood-damaged vehicles following Hurricane Ian

Thousands of Florida cars could hit used car lots nationwide soon
Hurricane Ian Florida
Posted at 3:04 AM, Oct 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-10 15:54:49-04

Buying a used car is hard enough these days, with record-high prices.

But there's something else consumers should be on the lookout for at used car lots.

After Hurricane Ian, flood-damaged vehicles could be moved out of Florida and sold to unsuspecting buyers anywhere in the U.S.

Enrique Sanders, a "flood car detective," expects that to happen in the coming months.

The district manager at AAA has an eye for spotting signs that a car has been water-logged.

The obvious sign is rusting, but more importantly, electrical problems and engine failure also occur.

"A cleaned-up flood car looks just like a clean car until you dig further at the undercarriage, the electrical components," Sanders warned.

You might think a flood-damaged car would be easy to spot, with some rust under the doors and moldy carpet inside, and indeed sometimes that is the case.

But many other times, it's much tougher to tell if a car was flooded.

What to look for when car shopping

Sanders said outside, inspect the taillight housings for moisture inside, which could mean flooding.

He also added that you need to open the trunk and peel back the coverings.

"Feel for any moisture, discoloration, down below in the trunk," Sanders said.

If you find dampness or sand, that could be a sign it was underwater.

Sanders said consumers should inspect all carpeting and under the hood.

He said it could be a red flag if there are brand-new battery terminals or wiring.

"Check the connections," he said. "If they are brand new, or the wiring is new, that means they have been replaced."

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Enrique Sanders, AAA

Get the vehicle history report

On top of an inspection, Emilie Voss of CARFAX said you should always ask to see a vehicle's history report, even if it is a low-mileage cream puff.

"Brand new cars can get flooded in these massive hurricane events, too," she said.

According to a CARFAX estimate, there are about 400,000 vehicles on the road with a flood history, even before Hurricane Ian.

Voss said as many as 358,000 vehicles, "were potentially damaged by Hurricane Ian's floodwaters," according to a CARFAX estimate.

Voss said to do some detective work of your own by paying attention to where the vehicle has been owned and serviced.

"Did a car live in New York and New Jersey last year when Ida hit?" Voss said. "There's a little component in our report where you can be able to tell where that car has been."

And if the car was registered or serviced in Southwest Florida, she said, be suspicious.

Unfortunately, most of us won't have Sanders to help us when we shop for a used car.

So get the CARFAX, and inspect the car very carefully, so you don't waste your money.

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