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How to avoid buying a water-damaged car Advertiser Disclosure Advertiser Disclosure We are an independent, advertising-supported comparison service. Our mission is to help you make better financial choices by providing you with interactive financial calculators and tools as well as publishing unique and impartial content, by enabling you to conduct research and compare information at no cost and help you make informed financial decisions. Bankrate has agreements with issuers, including but not restricted to, American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi and Discover. How We Earn Money The offers that appear on this website are provided by companies that pay us. This compensation can affect the way and when products are featured on this site, including such things as the order in which they may appear within the listing categories in the event that they are not permitted by law for our loan products, such as mortgages and home equity and other products for home loans. However, this compensation will not influence the information we provide, or the reviews that you see on this site. We do not include the entire universe of businesses or financial offerings that could be available to you. Luis Diaz Devesa/Getty images

5 min read Published June 22, 2022

Written by Mia Taylor Written by Contributing Writer Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation’s leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and The article was edited by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been writing and editing for Bankrate since the beginning of 2021. They are committed to helping readers gain the confidence to control their finances by providing precise, well-researched, and well-researched data that break down complex subjects into bite-sized pieces. The Bankrate guarantee

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There are money-related questions. Bankrate has answers. Our experts have helped you understand your finances for more than four decades. We strive to continuously give our customers the right guidance and the tools necessary to be successful throughout their financial journey. Bankrate adheres to a strict code of conduct , so you can trust that our content is truthful and precise. Our award-winning editors and journalists create honest and accurate information to assist you in making the right financial choices. The content we create by our editorial team is objective, truthful, and not influenced through our sponsors. We’re honest about the ways we’re able to bring quality content, competitive rates and useful tools for you by explaining how we earn money. is an independent, advertising-supported publisher and comparison service. We are compensated for placement of sponsored products or services, or through you clicking specific links on our site. This compensation could impact how, where and in what order products appear within listing categories, with the exception of those the law prohibits it in the case of our home equity, mortgage and other home lending products. Other factors, like our own rules for our website and whether the product is available in the area you reside in or is within your own personal credit score can also impact the way and place products are listed on this website. We strive to provide an array of offers, Bankrate does not include specific information on every financial or credit product or service. Car buyers throughout the nation can experience the aftereffects of destructive floods by unknowingly purchasing water-damaged vehicles. Used and new cars damaged by significant flood events, like Ida in 2021. Ida which hit 2021 in the year 2021 could be brought to market after a storm. Carfax data shows that as many as 212,000 vehicles might be damaged due to Hurricane Ida. When flood-damaged vehicles are sold to buyers who are not aware of the damage, they often have expensive electrical and mechanical problems that are discovered after a few months. Even if you don’t live in a place in which flooding is common, you could still buy a vehicle that has water damage. Carfax research has also revealed that damaged vehicles with water damage are found everywhere, which means that buyers from coast to coastline are at risk of purchasing damaged by flooding. How do you tell if an automobile is damaged by water? Cars with water damage can be difficult to spot. They often look fine and could even run for a while. But eventually, you are likely to be faced with problems because flooded cars decay from the inside out. Here are some signs that a car may have water damage: Musty odor: The interior of water-damaged vehicles will usually smell musty. Unscrupulous sellers may try to cover up the smell using strong air fresheners but it isn’t easy to completely rid a car of a moldy aroma. One way to test the smell of a car is to sit in the car and shut the windows. Carpets that are damp or moist Damage from water can accumulate in areas that you can’t see such as underneath carpeting. Check the carpets all over the car and then pat them to try and locate any possible moisture buildup. Also, check the trunk taking off the spare tire to look for any water underneath it. Upholstery that is stained or not matching and carpeting: Another sign for water-related damage could be a car that has stained or loose upholstery and carpeting. Check for brown, blotchy streaks, which are indicators that water has damaged the car. When conducting inspections, compare flooring carpeting with the carpeting on the doors and the roof. The carpets should all appear to be of similar age and color. Rust: A vehicle that has water damage could be covered in rust on the doors, under the hood, or even beneath the dashboard. Screws, door hinges or trunk latches as well as door handles may also exhibit signs of rust. Brittle wires: Check under the dashboard if you believe the car might have water damage. Brittle wires could suggest that the car is a victim of any water-related event of some type. Fog or water beads: If a car’s interior lighting instruments, exterior lights, or lights appear to be hazy or contain moisture beads inside the lights, it could be a warning sign that the vehicle might have water damage. Silt or mud buildup: In floods, specifically water may carry dirt and mud inside vehicles. After the flood has gone, the dirt will remain. Some of the places to check for mud and silt include the trunk, glove compartment and under the dashboard and below seats. 4 ways to avoid buying the car that has been flooded. If you are concerned that your vehicle might be damaged by flooding or water it is important to do the research to determine whether your intuition is right. There are many tools to help you get to the root of this vital question, as well as warning signs to look out for. 1. Check the history of your vehicle A vehicle history report can help uncover problems with a vehicle before you buy. A sure sign of a water-damaged car can be seen in the way it is marked as such. Departments of motor vehicles require permanent title marks on vehicles which have been severely damaged by floods. If the car was declared to be totally damaged, it is required to get a new title entirely that is labeled “salvage” or “flood.” The title will be determined by the stateof the vehicle, this fact may be indicated with a numeric code. Carfax and Experian have flood check tools which allow users to run an independent check on the past of a car. The platforms require only your VIN of the car that is being investigated. When reviewing a car’s history, keep your eye out for cars that come from areas hit by the floods. The National Insurance Crime Bureau also provides free VIN checks online that permit customers to determine if the car is salvaged. It is important to examine a car’s history report to determine if the car was sold several times over a short period of time. Be particularly leery of any history that includes buyers in multiple states. It could be a sign of what’s known as “title washing,”” in which unscrupulous sellers change the title of a car repeatedly to hide its history. 2. Examine for signs of water damage Cars that have been even partially submerged in water often have obvious signs, however they could be less obvious particularly if the car is being cleaned for sale. Be aware of stinky or sour smells, including those coming through the system for controlling temperature. Take note of any stains you see on the interior of the vehicle or engine compartment, as well as on the trunk. Mud, dirt, or sand in odd spots and seat belts that make a loud noise when pulled or retracted are also indications of water damage. It’s also important to try driving a car that you suspect may have water or flood damage. Some things to be aware of when you test drive are malfunctioning electrical systems as well as infotainment systems, which will act up if they have been affected by water. Also, look for signs of smoke during your test drive. 3. Be wary of cars that are priced below market value. There’s a good reason behind the old saying that things are too good to be true. For instance, cars are priced at a premium over their worth, and this is usually an indicator that something is wrong. Find the average selling price for the car you’re thinking of buying through independent price sites for vehicles such as Edmunds and Autotrader. A used or new car that is priced lower than market value is an indication that the seller is eager to get rid of the vehicle. Buyers need to be careful when a car is advertised at a substantial discount. Alongside asking questions about the reason the vehicle is being sold for much less than it ought to be, it may be an excellent idea to have the car evaluated by an expert who can detect any issues. 4. Take a professional inspection generally a wise idea engage a certified mechanic automotive technician to go through and thoroughly examine a vehicle prior to you purchase it. However, it’s even more crucial to do this in order to protect yourself from water damage to your car. A professional can help ease your mind, especially when the vehicle you’re considering has one or more of the signs that are listed here. Be sure that the inspection does not just include obvious indications of water damage but also a thorough inspection of all electronic equipment, as problems with these systems can be a long time before they are discovered. While a pre-purchase inspection will usually be paid by you, the prospective buyer, it is money well spent if it prevents you from getting a car that is a lemon. It is possible to pay anywhere from $100-$200 to have an inspection. What to do if you bought a water-damaged car If you’ve bought a car with water damage, all may never be destroyed. Repairs can be made to the vehicle with an experienced mechanic. But , keep in mind that these aren’t DIY fixes. It will require professionals with extensive knowledge of cars. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the repair of an affected vehicle after a flood won’t be cheap, so you’ll need to decide if the vehicle is worth the cost. Especially since flood-damaged cars typically have no selling value. The bottom line is that flood-damaged vehicles are utilized in every state across this country. If you think that a vehicle could have been affected by flooding or some other kind of water-related event, there are a variety of steps you can take including running a vehicle history report, examining for telltale indications of water damage, and having the vehicle inspected by a professional. Remember, even if you aren’t in a region impacted by flooding, you may accidentally end up with a water damaged vehicle. Find out more


Written by Contributing Writer Mia Taylor is a contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation’s leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and Written by Rhys Subitch Edited by Auto loans editor Rhys has been editing and writing for Bankrate since the end of 2021. They are dedicated to helping their readers gain the confidence to manage their finances with concise, well-researched and well-researched content that breaks down otherwise complex topics into manageable bites.

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