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We've all seen the damage to the eastern seaboard that Hurricane Sandy delivered; now think about where all those flooded cars might end up...
In some cases, damage may be minimal and can be repaired. But obviously many will have sustained irreparable damage that may not even be visible to the untrained eye and should be sent to the junk yard for scrap. But that doesn't mean they will be, says NBC News.
"A car that's been in a flood with the engine submerged for any length of time will never be the same," says Carl Sullivan, who has two decades of experience inspecting vehicles for AiM, a California team of auto inspectors. "It's important for used car shoppers to know how to spot flood damage no matter where they live because these cars can end up on a dealer lot anywhere in the country."
NBC News says that although many states have strict rules covering vehicles that have been totaled in crashes or floods, and the federal government puts totaled vehicles on a national database, there are still ways for scammers to get around that.
It's called "title-washing." The vehicle owners or dealers trying to dump a flood vehicle on unsuspecting consumers move cars from state to state as record-keeping and registration policies vary across the country. A notation that indicates a vehicle was wrecked in one state may "wash off" when it's moved to a different state.
AiM warns that scam artists even switch Vehicle Identification Numbers(VIN numbers) to eliminate any record of a car damaged by flooding.
Exactly how many cars have sustained flood damage from Sandy remains to be determined. However, AiM says that an estimated 600,000 vehicles were claimed by Hurricanes Rita, Katrina and Wilma in 2005, according to CarFax, a service that helps consumers track the true history of a vehicle.
AiM says a professional inspection will find flood damage no matter how a seller tries to hide it. According to Sullivan that's important because a car's engine, fuel system, electronics, air bags and brakes are all extremely susceptible to flood water.
First and foremost, have a professional inspect any vehicle you're considering. Secondly, beware some of the tell-tale signs:
Water or condensation in the headlights or taillights could be a tip-off to flood-related problems.
A musty odor in the vehicle could be from moldy carpeting or padding. If possible, pull up the carpet to see how far water mmay have risen in the vehicle and if any moisture remains.
Mud in the seat belt tracks or seat belt tensioners.
Water in the spare tire well in the vehicle's trunk.
A sagging headliner, particularly in a late model vehicle.
Corrosion in the vehicle's undercarriage such as on brake liners or around the fule tank.
A close inspection can turn up other tips, says Sullivan, who adds that he even found two fish under one vehicle's back seat... "That was a pretty sure sign."
Damage from flooding is not always apparent and may not even be apparent for 90 days or more. Spend the money if you have to to get a professional evaluation. It will save you in the long run.