Remember Superstorm Sandy? Or Hurricane Irene? Both storms hit the east coast pretty hard...and parts of the affected areas are still rebuilding. Out west, we don't often worry about things like hurricanes but we should worry about the second round of damage that comes from these storms - scam artists. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, over 250,000 cars were damaged in Superstorm Sandy. While some of those may have been a tree branch where it shouldn't have been or fender bender during the rush to evacuate, but most are water logged cars. Did you see the pictures of lower Manhattan and the Rockaways where the cars were simply floating down the streets. Now those cars have been removed and dried...and showing up on used car lots around the country.
The tricky thing about flood damaged cars is that they can clean up very nicely - it isn't until you start inspecting the wiring, noticing the owners manual looks like it's been soaked recently, or finding a water line in the trunk that you get suspicious. According to the NICB, it's not illegal to buy or sell flooded vehicles. Usually, these cars are declared as salvage, and their title reflects that. If everyone involved in the deal is aware the car has been through a great trauma, then the sale is legal. But, really, if the car looks good, smells passable and runs as expected, how many people would announce the car survived a superstorm? Problems like mildew, transmission problems, rust, faulty wiring and the like don't often show up until long after money has changed hands.
So how do you avoid buying a flood-damaged car? If the deal seems too good to be true, do some more homework. Run a CarFax report or have a mechanic inspect it. Take care to ensure the electronic systems are working, and see if there's a difference in paint color or interior that could have been replaced due to damage. Also ask very carefully after the vehicles pedigree. If you find something in your research or inspection that doesn't make sense ask questions. Of course, if anything seems off or you feel uncomfortable, remember you can walk away from the deal at any time.
Avoiding a flooded car is a necessity - from a safety point of view, knowing that it'll cost a lot to repair or replace the damaged car, or even in the event of an insurance claim the perceived value of your car may be different than the reality (a flooded Honda is worth a little less than just an older Honda).