With all the tricks available to unscrupulous car dealers every consumer should know the signs of a flood damaged car. Here's what to look out for:
Do the research. Always conduct a thorough pre-purchase inspection and title search before buying anyused car. When vehicles are totaled, the insurance company issues a "branded" title indicating the type of loss, such as salvage, rebuilt wreck or flood victim, and takes possession of the vehicle for auction. By law a salvaged car must carry this warning on its title, but beware of 'title washing,' a practice in which unscrupulousdealers re-register a car in several states which have slightly different requirements until the insurance brand is removed. If the car has the original VIN, a CARFAX report can protect you from title washing.-- Check for water lines. Look in the glove box, the engine compartment, trunk, wheel wells and door jams for tell-tale water-damage blotches. Electrical connections with a green crusty substance or seat mounting bolts with rust are also dead giveaways that a car was underwater. While you're inspecting the car check under the seat or between the seat and the center console for fine dirt or silt carried by floodwaters into the car.
-- Check the fluids. Oil, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, and differential fluid all turn milky when mixed with water. Check the fluids and take a look at the dipstick. Rust here will indicated water damage and unscrupulous techs often forget to change this simple piece of equipment when rebuilding a salvaged car.
-- Give it a sniff. Even the strongest Febreze or air freshener can't completely kill the moldy smell seats and carpeting gain from slowly drying. A strong odor right away will tell you the car was in a flood, but if you're not sure roll up the windows and let the car sit for a while. The stale air will have a telltale basement smell. Also, if carpeting and upholstery seem too new for the car or even loose that might indicate a major overhaul of the interior.
-- How are the electronics? Reach under the steering wheel and feel the wiring. Brittle wires mean water damage. Static on the radio, flickering in the headlights or any number of electrical problems can indicate water damage.