Beware of Buying Hurricane Flooded Cars

Flood Damaged Cars from Hurricane Harvey and Irma Will Soon Begin Showing up on Used Car Lots All Over the Country

flood damaged carsEarly estimates indicate that as many as half a million cars have been flooded and damaged in the path of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. That number might be a low estimate given the breath of the disaster.

These are not only personal and business vehicles but brand new and used vehicles on dealers’ lots.

Most will have suffered damages caused by water in the engine compartment, the interior, the trunk, and inside door panels. Electronic and electrical systems as well as computers will have been destroyed. Exteriors and paint will also be affected.

Most of these vehicles have been insured, including those on dealers’ lots and in showrooms. Owners will receive some compensation, although probably not enough to cover a replacement vehicle or cover loan or lease balances.

What happens next?

Historically, what we know will happen is that insurance companies will declare almost all these vehicles as total losses (“totaled”). Once that happens, they  will try to recover as much of their losses as possible by selling many of the vehicles to “rebuilders” and others, some of which may not be competent or reputable.

Rebuilders will attempt to repair these flooded and damaged vehicles and put them back on the road by selling or auctioning them to used car lots around the United States. Depending the state, they may or may not come with a salvage or rebuilt title. Many will have purposely had their titles “washed” to eliminate the salvage indication.

In some cases, dealers may not know they are receiving water damaged goods when they buy. And most won’t inspect or look for such damage before selling to unsuspecting customers.

What’s the problem?

Anyone looking for a used car in the months, even years, after a major weather event such as Hurricane Harvey should take extra caution to avoid buying a water damaged vehicle. They are often difficult to spot.

Since water destroys practically everything in a vehicle that it touches, repairs can be major and costly. However, rebuilders often take short cuts, using cheap parts, and ignoring hidden damage to keeps costs down and profits up — all of which won’t be obvious to inexperienced car buyers.

Buyers should look for common signs of water damage before buying. It might be unusual rust in the trunk, musty damp smelling carpets, discolored upholstery, non-working electrical or electronic equipment, mud and debris in the engine compartment, corroded wiring under the dash, hints of extensive repairs and replacement of parts, and possibly a poor repaint job.

In summary, used car buyers are exposed to the very real risk of unsuspectingly buying water damaged and poorly repaired vehicles for a long time after a major national weather event such as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.