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What you need to know about flood-damaged vehicles

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body module damage
Posted at 6:09 PM, Jan 20, 2023

In the past two weeks, numerous cars have been impacted by flooding along streets and highways on the Central Coast, and experts say some of those vehicles may end up at your local used car dealership.

"When it comes to flood damage, there is a lot of damage that you cannot physically see," said Alexander Orellana, sales manager at Family Motors Santa Maria.

"Just stay out of the water. Water and cars don't mix. Sorry!" added Pat Nicoll, owner of Pat's Automotive in Santa Maria.

Nicoll says multiple cars have come into his repair shop for service since the storm.

"One fairly new Dodge Charger tried to make it through the water, didn't make it. It ingested a bunch of water and ruined the engine," Nicoll told KSBY.

He says a pickup truck that was dropped off at his shop actually made it through flooded streets safely, but thousands of dollars worth of damages were discovered days later.

"One of his modules started smoking. It sits down pretty low by the footwell on the passenger side, and water actually got in there," Nicoll explained.

Meanwhile, if you have plans to go car shopping any time soon, Orellana advises you to be on the lookout for potentially flood-damaged vehicles.

"Usually after hurricane season, we will see an influx of flood-damaged cars that flood into the auction. And the biggest thing with those cars is having a lot of electrical components that end up having issues down the line," he said.

Orellana says most used car dealers, including his own, will allow you to bring vehicles you are looking to purchase into an auto shop for a second inspection.

"I definitely suggest getting the Carfax first and foremost. That will give you the information on where the vehicle has been located, how many owners, if there has been any damage that has been reported," he added. "Any flood damage where the vehicle was paid out by the insurance will be reported on there."

Nicoll adds that if the inside of your car became flooded during the rain, it is more than likely the vehicle suffered damage beyond repair.

"The car really should be totaled. A lot of times the insurance company will total them because they don’t want future liability for electrical problems that happen a year from now," he said.

Before Hurricane Ian hit last September, Carfax estimated there to be roughly 400,000 vehicles on the road with histories of flood damage, and Orellana expects that number may go up following our recent storm, too.

When shopping for a car, experts also recommend you look out for rust, funny smells, or water lines on the carpet that may be signs of prior flood damage.