Anytime we have a large storm, like in Texas, you can bet a ton of water damaged cars are about to hit the market. These cars usually get moved out of state, cleaned up and sold to unsuspecting buyers. Even with companies like Carfax and Autocheck, these cars can slip through the cracks if a shaddy seller has experience in the art of, “title washing.”
When a car is flooded or in an accident most states require the car to be branded with either a rebuilt, salvage or junk title. What the scam artist seller will do is take the title to a state that doesn’t require branding and register the car. Once registered the title is now free of any negative markings and the car can be sold with a clean title for more money. Its amazing this practice is still possible but Carfax claims there could be around 800,000 used cars on the road today that have had their titles washed.
Here are 3 things to look out for so you don’t buy a car that’s last home was the middle of a lake.
1. What’s that smell? Trust your nose on this one. If it smells funky, there is a good chance it was flooded. Even fresh water flooded cars can develop a nasty odor that is very difficult to hide. This is because mold starts to form in areas like the carpet padding. Mold smells pretty bad so some will try and mask the smell with loads of air freshener. If the car smells like the bathroom of a Euro night club, slowly take a step back and then run away.
2. Why so moist? Anyone selling a previously flooded car is going to do their best to dry everything. Even seasoned professionals make mistakes so here are some areas to look at for evidence of water damage. Check the spare tire area. Its normally under a mat in the trunk on a car. Pull up the floor mat and look for water or a water line. Check under seats, in the glove box and inside lights. Blinker fluid is not actually a thing so if there is water in the taillight or headlamp housings the car was likely flooded. If you notice this, just tell the salesman you have to use the bathroom, and then burn rubber out of there.
3. Why is a one year old car rusted? Often a flooded car can look brand new. Since the car was not in an accident there is usually no paint work to be performed. If you notice any bubbling of the paint, that indicates rust. Another great way to inspect for rust is to look in the car. Take a look at the metal frame under the seats cleverly called the “seat frame.” When a car has been sitting in water these frames and the bolts used to attach them to the body of the car will rust. If you notice rust in these areas, you guessed it, run as if you were late on a gambling debt and Pauly and Petey were knocking at your door.
In the end, it’s always a good idea to have a pre-purchase inspection performed by a professional. Often people only bring a potential new car to an auto mechanic for an inspection. Although that is definitely something you should do, consider bringing it to a good body shop. They can spot a flooded or wrecked car almost immediately as that’s all they’re dealing with every day.