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How To Spot A Car With Water Damage

The recent flooding in Louisiana is a tragedy for that state. And like many natural disasters, its impact will be felt far beyond the inundated areas – reaching as far as your wallet, if you are in the market for a used car.

Water can devastate an automobile, seriously harming both its mechanical and electronic systems. It is legal to resell a flooded car so long as the damage is disclosed on the title and repairs are made and inspected.

But because water damage can be hard to spot and take time to appear, unscrupulous sellers sometimes market flood-ravaged autos without disclosing that they were previously under water. Often times, these vehicles show up for sale far from where they were damaged.

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If you are considering buying a car that might have gone for a swim, start your due diligence by checking out such online databases as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System and Carfax’s free flood damage checker. Of course, no database is perfect, especially when people are trying to hide information. So, your strongest line of defense is your own detailed inspection of the vehicle. Here are some telltale signs that a car has been flooded, courtesy of Consumer Reports:

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Carpets – Are they muddy? Smell musty? On the flipside: Why is there brand new carpet in this older vehicle?

Headlights – Headlights and taillights are expensive. Replacing them would really cut into a scammer’s margin. Look for water lines inside the housing.

Engine compartment – Look for water lines, mud, et cetera in out-of-the-way places that a scammer may have overlooked.

Seat bolts – Any sign they have been unfastened? If so, that may indicate the seats were removed to help dry carpets.

Screw heads – Unpainted screws in the interior might show signs of rust. Check out fasteners in out-of-the-way places, like under the dashboard.

Trunk – Look for mud, leaves and other debris under the liner and in the deepest recesses of the storage compartment.

Body panels – Feel around the bottom edges for debris or mud that may have settled there.

Drain plugs – Have the rubber plugs under the car or at the bottom of the door been disturbed? If so, why? Was it to drain a flooded passenger compartment?

If you still have suspicions about the car after your own visual inspection, consider getting a professional mechanic to take an in-depth look. That means additional time and expense. But when it comes to buying a used car, better safe than soggy.

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Cover Image Courtesy Of: Gina Jacobs /

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