Buyer beware: Cars damaged by flooding hit market

Estimated 500,000 cars waterlogged by Harvey

By Marilyn Moritz - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - As many as a half-million cars were soaked by Hurricane Harvey in Houston alone, and now experts warn hundreds of thousands of those waterlogged cars could soon flood the market.

The vehicles are already trickling in.

"We've inspected over 100 cars in the last three days," said Shane Vaughn, president of Auto Exam, a presale vehicle-inspection company. "We've already found seven flood-damaged vehicles, new and used. They're ending up back on the streets, back to consumers."

While many flooders are destined for junkyard parts, dishonest people may refurbish them and even wash the titles and sell them to unsuspecting buyers. And some uninsured owners may try to hide the water damage.

"These cars can be sold on online classifieds, but also parking lots, the side of the road," said Chris Basso, with Carfax. "Not all these cars are bad, but you want to be sure to protect yourself."

To avoid buying a flood car, experts recommend getting a vehicle history report.

Carfax has opened its flood database for free in the wake of the extensive hurricane damage. A VIN search can be done through www.carfax.com/flood.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau also offers history searches at www.nicb.org.

In addition, experts say an inspection by a trusted mechanic is vital to uncovering signs of previous flooding. An inspection runs about $100.

Flooding can wreak havoc on a car.

"The water can impact the electrical, safety and mechanical systems of the car; sometimes all at once," Basso said. 

There are some telltale signs for a buyer. Debris and water stains on upholstery are obvious, but signs can also include moisture in the headlights or taillights, rusted rails under the seats, a brittle liner under the carpet and a spare tire area that still has water. You can also just trust your nose. Mildew smells can be a giveaway.

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