Flood-damaged cars: How to spot one

Flood-damaged cars: How to spot one

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ATLANTA -

After Hurricane Sandy, flood-damaged vehicles started washing up, and con men then started cleaning them up.  Often those saltwater-soaked automobiles are sold to unsuspecting customers who think they're a run-of-the-mill used car. The FOX 5 I-Team's Dana Fowle looked into just how easy it is to make a waterlogged vehicle appear safe and reliable when in fact it might not be.

There are a lot of these flood-damaged cars on the market today.  Carfax, the vehicle history reporting group, says there are more than 200,000 of them.  To the average buyer, they can be hard to spot.  

With the help of a clean-up crew hired by Carfax, we can show you how a car that was once sitting in flood waters from Superstorm Sandy turns is cleaned up, and then ends up back on the market—and is sold to a new owner who may not know its soggy history.

But let's inspect it first.  Car expert and mechanic Steve Sabonya pointed out what he believes shows the car has been submerged in water.   He refers to the amount of rust and body damage caused by the water.

But in no time, a good scrubbing goes a long way in making it look deceivingly better.  The clean-up crew mimics what con men do.  They remove the seats, vacuum and shampoo the interior to get formally submerged cars back on the street. It takes a while, but the profit made when it's not disclosed that the car is a flood-damaged vehicle is worth the trouble.

Things might look great under the hood as well, but Sabonya says it's purely cosmetic.  He describes it as a car rotting from the inside out, with corrosion inside fuses, debris and even a hole in the valve cover that he says will eventually catch on fire.

Sabonya says before that happens, your breaks could go out.  He says if flood water gets inside, you'll lose your anti-lock brakes and traction control immediately.

So how do you avoid getting a flood-damaged car?  It never hurts to get a vehicle history report, and always have your mechanic look over a used car before you buy. You can do a few things yourself, like a sniff test.  Get inside the car and smell for mildew.  Pull back the rugs to see if anything looks peculiar.  Open the consoles, and note if it smells like mold in there, too.

Here are the links we mentioned on Friday's Good Day Atlanta:

This one is very timely as the CFA lists auto issues #1 on their top 10 list this year:
http://www.consumer.ga.gov/news/articles/view/nation-s-top-ten-consumer-compaints

No, if you sell a car "as is" you don't have to disclose a problem unless asked typically. Buyer beware-- consumers should have a trusted mechanic inspect any used car before purchasing the vehicle.
http://www.consumered.com/your_car/buying/checkitout.aspx

This is a good web site for consumers to check:
http://www.vehiclehistory.gov/

This adds some context:
http://consumered.com/answers/post/Car-dealer-falsely-claimed-no-prior-wrecks.aspx

http://consumer.georgia.gov/atd_pressreleases/atd_pressreleases/view/state-warns-of-flood-damaged-vehicles-being-sold-in-the-wake-of-hurricane-sandy

Damage like this does not necessarily show up on a title in every state. This is a question for the Department of Revenue to answer if you walk down that road:
http://www.carfax.com/car_buying/flood_damage_cars.cfx

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