Whenever there's significant flooding, as there has been this summer, shady sellers go into action to obtain and deal cars that have been doused and cosmetically cleaned up, said
"It's one of those buyer beware things," Hanson said. "There are always some people who are trying to game the system."
A car that's been drowned and resuscitated can have any number of problems that might not show up immediately.
With Grandpa's pickup, it wasn't that big a deal. Air intakes and vital electronics were on top of the engine and the electrical systems were simple and fairly robust. Mold and rust from inadequate drying were probably the biggest threats if it hadn't been completely submerged.
But the computer-controlled vehicles of today are way more susceptible to flood damage, said
Floodwater seeps into computer connectors and circuit boards, eventually causing corrosion that leads to intermittent problems and ultimately complete system failures. Air bag safety systems are especially at risk because the controlling computers are usually floor-mounted, he said.
Also, the air intakes on newer cars are mounted lower in the engine bay, increasing the chance that a car driven into a deep spot will suck in water and suffer significant engine damage, Clay said.
Even if a car's parked when it's flooded, water can contaminate the oil and get into the engines' cylinders, washing away vital lubrication and causing damage to the cylinder walls, he said.
A good way to tell if a car has been flooded is to peel up part of the carpet and look for signs of dried mud, rust or mold that would indicate that water had been above the floorboards, he said.
This year, the concern over flooded cars centers mainly on
"Vehicles which have been declared flood damaged or designated as salvage vehicles in other parts of
Buyers should also watch out for cars that may have been damaged in floods this summer in southern
He recommended buyers check the registration history when considering buying a used car to make sure it hasn't been "title scrubbed."
That's an industry term for reregistering a car in one or more states to mask if it came from a flood zone and to paper over salvage titles and insurance damage claims.
While legitimate dealerships are unlikely to try to pass flood-damaged vehicles off onto unsuspecting buyers, "there are always some unscrupulous people who are doing something like that," Hanson said.
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