Officials are estimating damages from Hurricane Florence could reach as high as $50 million dollars. The Carolinas were especially hard-hit by flooding rains, and thousands of vehicles were destroyed by flood waters.
Experts warn many of the flood-damaged cars may be refurbished and shipped to Virginia and other states to be resold to unsuspecting buyers. Consumers need to be alert to vehicles which may make their way to used car lots around Virginia without documentation of the flooding history. The practice, known as “title washing”, is when automobiles totaled are given new, clean titles in other states without documentation of previous damage from an accident or flood.
There are many steps consumers can take to ensure they do not purchase a vehicle which was damaged in a flood:
The Sniff Test
Every person has that one friend who has a great sense of smell. Maybe you are the one who smells everything, or maybe it is your friend. Bring this friend along when you are purchasing a used truck or car. Shut all the doors and roll up the windows. After a few minutes, nudge the door open and see if you and your friend detect a musty smell.
A mold or mildew smell is hard to mask for people who can smell everything. Beware of strong air fresheners too, as this may be another sign the seller is trying to mask a negative odor.
Search VIN Number
Check the vehicle identification number (VIN) for any signs of trouble. Purchasing a CarFax report is a good start for researching the history of an automobile. Check to see where the vehicle was previously owned, and be especially careful if it is coming from a flood ravaged region. While a car with a clean history is probably okay, it is possible for the history to be forged.
As you are reading the report, look for words such as “salvage”, “flood”, “rebuilt” or “loss”. Uninsured vehicles may have never been reported to an insurance agency, so there may not be any record of flood loss. This is why it is important to do a thorough physical inspection even if the CarFax report does not raise any red flags.
Inspect the Interior of the Car
How does the interior of the car look to you? Does it look like the carpet is brand new, or recently replaced? Does the fabric of the carpet look too new for an older vehicle? If the carpet is in excellent shape for a 10 year old vehicle, further inspection is in order.
See if you can pull up the carpet just enough to look for hidden moisture. If you can’t check under the carpet, put on some gloves, and check under the seats for damp spots. Feel the carpet under the glove carpet and other places around the vehicle too.
Look Under The Hood
You will want to check under the hood too. Take a peek at the hard to reach nooks and crannies around the engine bay, or any other area under the hood which would be tough to clean. Also check around the spark plug wire cavities for silt, sand, soil, or any other debris which shouldn’t be there.
Check the engine oil and transmission fluid. Look for signs water is mixing in with the oil and transmission fluid. Oil will have a different shade to it when it is mixing with water. It may look more like a chocolate milkshake, or even coffee with milk. Regardless, if the oil does not look normal, this is a clear sign this is a car you may need to walk away from. The same holds true for transmission fluid mixing with water.
Check The Trunk and Undercarriage
Open the trunk of the vehicle to check for signs of water around the trunk. If there is damp carpet in the trunk, it could be because of a recent flood, or the trunk may not be sealed properly, allowing rainwater to enter during rain storms. Also check the spare tire area for signs of standing water.
Vehicles should also be checked for rust under the car. If the undercarriage shows signs of rust, and the car is from a mild weather climate, this is a dead giveaway there is flood damage.
Test Drive the Vehicle
This should not come as any surprise, but consumers should always test drive a vehicle no matter how great it looks. If you are not mechanically minded, you should ask a friend who is knowledgeable about cars to accompany you.
As you drive the car, how does everything sound? Is there anything that sounds amiss with the transmission or the engine? Are you noticing any strange odors or smells right after starting the car?
Check all of the electrical systems, bluetooth radio, GPS, etc.for abnormal behavior. This also includes windshield wipers, power windows, power locks, etc. See if all the dashboard lights are in good working order. Signs of problems in the electrical system should not be ignored.
Have It Inspected By A Mechanic
At the end of the day, a professional mechanic is going to be most qualified to inspect a vehicle for potential flood damage. Ask your mechanic to do a pre-buyer’s inspection to search for flood damage or other major issues the average consumer might not recognize.
Contact Epperly & Follis, P.C. for a free consultation today at 1-888-703-0109 or (804) 648-6480, or you can reach us through the contact form.