4 Tips for Spotting a Water-Damaged Vehicle

By Tommie Ethington

Just as water levels increase after heavy rains, so does the likelihood water-damaged vehicles will show up in used car lots and newspaper classified ads. When water-damaged vehicles are cleaned up, they may look like they’re in good condition — making them hard to detect. But previously flooded cars and trucks often have a higher likelihood of mechanical failure. They’re also not eligible for many aftermarket vehicle service contracts, so you will be stuck with the repair costs.

Here are four tips to help you identify and avoid water-damaged vehicles.

  1. Ask the seller. Whether you’re purchasing a vehicle from an individual or a dealership, ask the seller if the vehicle has ever had significant flood damage. Gauging the seller’s reaction may help you determine if that’s been an issue.
  2. Use your senses. After standing water drains, it can leave mildew in cracks and crevices. Sniff for a musty, waterlogged smell. Inspect the trunk, dashboard and undersides of seats for moisture, rust, mold, sand or silt. Look at the engine parts, nuts and bolts for signs of rusting. Also, check the undercarriage for signs of corrosion or flaking metal.
  3. Research the vehicle’s past. Some flooded vehicles end up in the salvage yard before being passed along to unaware consumers. Before you buy, check the car’s history with these resources: the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheckSM, AutoCheck®, CARFAX®
  4. Get a second opinion. If you live in a flood-prone area or still have some suspicion about a car’s flooded past, ask a reputable mechanic to conduct a thorough inspection before you decide to buy. If the seller is unwilling to allow you to get the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic, this could indicate hidden damage.

Listen to The Money Drill podcast to learn the best and worst times to buy a car, and read more on how to negotiate with a car dealer.

Use the USAA Car Buying Service to learn what others paid for their car and feel confident you’re getting a solid deal.

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