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Spotting Flood-Damaged Vehicles

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After major disasters that cause widespread hail or flood damage, the used car market becomes saturated with damaged cars- some written off, others repaired. Avoiding these cars will save you headaches and bills later- a flood-damaged vehicle will be prone to electric problems you’ll spend the vehicle’s lifetime trying to diagnose.

Many of the rehabilitated rebuilds will look pretty good. A fresh coat of paint and an inside and out detail goes a long way in masking a vehicle’s history. Being thorough in your pre-purchase due diligence is key.

The Impacts of Hurricane Harvey Will be Felt on the Used Car Market for Quite Some Time to Come recently reported that Hurricane Harvey has wrecked up to a million cars in Houston, with a conservative estimate pegging around 300,000 vehicles being destroyed.

Unfortunately, a good number of these vehicles will find their way into the used market (legally and illegally). For the buyer, a flood-damaged vehicle poses some risks:

  • Salt water is extremely corrosive – If a vehicle is a total-loss due to flooding, there’s a good chance that a number of interior and exterior panels will begin to rust.
  • Waterlocked engines and transmissions – A submerged engine can have a number of issues, ranging from fried electronics to extensive cylinder damage.
  • Mold and other germs/fungi love a dark, moist environment… like the cushions and carpets in your vehicle’s interior. Often, a comprehensive cleaning alone is insufficient to permanently resolve the problem (and smell).

An experienced mechanic or inspector can identify a flood-damaged vehicle- flooding leaves tell-tale signs and markers. This highlights the importance of having a potential purchase inspected by a mechanic you trust prior to taking possession.

Using the VIN to Learn a Vehicle’s History

Before you have a vehicle inspected, look up its history via its VIN. This is an easy way to screen out unsuitable vehicles, and it is considerably less expensive than having multiple vehicles inspected.

The VIN is to your vehicle what your birth certificate is for you: it identifies the vehicle when notable events happen in its lifetime. A standard VIN check can help determine if the vehicle is free from flood damage, theft, and salvage status.

Through the report you’ll learn:

  • Where the vehicle has been registered (and when)
  • Junk/salvage records – If the vehicle has ever been written-off by insurance, it will be identified here.
  • Liens – There’s nothing worse than buying a vehicle with an active lien.
  • Theft, fire, flood, etc.
  • Recall information – Many vehicles are subject to important safety recalls. Any identified recalls should be completed (if they haven’t been completed already).
  • Odometer history – Tampered odometers can artificially inflate the vehicle’s value.

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