Used Car Alert: Beware of an Uptick of Flood-damaged Cars

Recent hurricanes in Houston and the state of Florida have left record-level devastation tearing up homes, buildings, city infrastructure and of course vehicles. The cleanup effort after these storms will be a colossal undertaking.

Restoring power, rebuilding roads and bridges, and clearing debris caused by the storm and flooding is a top priority. Once the damage has been assessed, new car purchases will be required by many Houston and Florida residents to restore a semblance of normalcy.

According to some reports, more than 100,000 insurance claims related to Harvey in Houston have been filed and that number is expected to quadruple. Comprehensive coverage should cover the costs of car repair or replacement due to flood damage. A post-storm surge in auto sales is expected in the region.


Can Car Repair Fix Hurricane or Flood Damage?

Vehicles impacted by the storms often cannot withstand flood damage. Flooding is particularly damaging to cars as engines can’t tolerate being submerged in water for a lengthy period of time. A vehicle that has been submerged in water for days will be ruined and irreparable in most cases. Water can have an immediate impact on the electrical system of a car, ruin interior and cause major engine problems.  In other cases, the costs of engine repair or transmission repair will be so great that the insurance company deems it totaled.

Other storm-related injury can occur from trees or other objects hitting your vehicle. A mechanic will have to assess the damage of the vehicle on a case by case basis to determine if auto repair for the body of the vehicle will be worth it. Minor automotive repairs such as windshield replacements, tire replacements, or fixing dents are often doable. Cars affected by the storm may need a thorough cleaning to remove leaves, sticks, branches, seedpods and other debris. Such materials can get under the hood and cause more harm to the vehicle.


Storm-damaged Vehicles Resold on the Cheap

But what happens to all those cars ruined by the storm? Instead of filing a claim or writing off the vehicles as a loss, some car owners and even dealerships may try to resell their vehicles out of state. To be clear, a vehicle deemed as totaled can’t be fixed by a mechanic.

Though it is illegal to resell a ruined car, industry experts want to warn the public that this practice is more common that you might think. Experts from a range of publications are issuing buyer-beware warnings and estimate that as many as half of flood-damaged vehicles may be resold.


Engine Repair Can’t Fix a Flood-Damaged Engine Block

In some cases, the signs of damage caused by sustained water submersion aren’t always as obvious. This is because a damaged vehicle might run for just enough time to convince a buyer that it’s okay. Flooding damages the engine, transmission and electronic components of the vehicle. Yet much of this harm such as rust occurs to a vehicle’s internal components where it isn’t visible to the naked eye.

Engine repair or other types of automotive repair cannot truly fix these issues. Slipshod auto repair can rig the vehicle so that it will drive just enough time to sell it to an unsuspecting buyer. The buyer then is in for some serous headaches and auto repair bills for the foreseeable future.


How to Protect Yourself against Buying a Damaged Car?

So if you are in the market to purchase a used vehicle, how can you make sure you don’t buy one that’s been hurt by the flood?

  • Too cheap – if you are getting a deal on a car that’s just too good to be true, rest assured it probably is. There must be a reason, and an unsavory one at that, to sell a vehicle for less than half of what it’s worth, for instance. If you think it’s so cheap that you don’t mind the extra car repair, think again. Such vehicles can’t be repaired so you will be taking it in for auto repair over and over again.


  • Be skeptical – If the vehicle owner or dealership has shoddy paperwork or says “there’s no need to run a VIN check,” you should be very suspicious. In today’s information age, there’s no reason not to obtain a vehicle history report.


  • Bad smell – Many flooded vehicles come with a rot or mildew smell that you just can’t get rid of. Does this smell only get worse when you turn on the A/C or heater? This is a classic sign of serious flood damage.


  • Auto repair inspection – before you buy, take the vehicle for a test run and drive it over to an auto repair shop in San Diego for a thorough inspection. You can even mention to the mechanic you are concerned about flooding so they will know what to look for.






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