AAA Offers Tips on How to Spot a Flood-Damaged Vehicle

ORLANDO, Fla., September 26, 2011

Looking for Flood Damage

Many Americans have been devastated by flooding in the past few weeks and months. In those regions, private vehicle owners, auto dealers and car auction managers face the dilemma of salvaging or restoring flood-damaged vehicles.

AAA warns car buyers that flood-damaged vehicles can be shipped anywhere for resale, and they often continue to appear in the marketplace for up to a year after a major flood. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, vehicles that were flood-damaged in the hurricane affected areas were shipped throughout the United States for sale as both new and used cars.

“Depending on the vehicle make, model and age, the cost of a thorough cleaning and drying may exceed the car’s value,” said John Nielsen, director, AAA Auto Repair. “In many cases, insurance companies ‘total’ flood-damaged vehicles which are then sold to salvage companies.”

“However, rather than being disassembled for parts, some of these vehicles end up being purchased by individuals who bring varying levels of expertise to the restoration process,” continued Nielsen.

If a car has been completely submerged, extensive disassembly may be needed for a thorough cleaning. Many parts of a car are difficult to clean and dry because they are hard to access. Door locks, window mechanisms, wiring harnesses, heating and air conditioning components and many other small devices are tucked away in hidden spaces. Initially, these items may operate properly following a flood only to fail at a later date due to contamination.

The car’s electrical system is particularly vulnerable to flood water damage. Engine computers, sensors and other electrical devices can sometimes be salvaged but unless they are thoroughly cleaned and dried, problems caused by corrosion and oxidation may occur months after the flood.

AAA Tips…How to Spot a Flood-Damaged Vehicle

  • Obtain a CARFAX Vehicle History Report – This report can potentially reveal if the vehicle has been involved in a flood, major accident, fire, or uncover odometer fraud.
  • Engage your sense of smell to detect any damp or musty odors inside the vehicle.
  • Has the carpet or upholstery been replaced or recently shampooed? Pullback the carpet at different areas and look for mud, dirt or signs of water stains.
  • Inspect the dashboard underside for signs of mud and dirt. This is a particularly hard area to clean.
  • Look under the vehicle for corrosion. It is uncommon to find corrosion in newer vehicles and those that are owned or sold in southern states.
  • Open all doors, hood, and trunk to inspect for corrosion, mud and dirt or discoloration on the door frames, hinges and under the weather stripping. Pay special attention to small spaces and crevices that are difficult to clean.
  • Check all warning lights, window motors, and all electrical components to ensure they are working properly. While a non-working part alone does not mean the vehicle was flooded, it combined with other difficulties is a cause for concern.
  • Always have the vehicle inspected by a quality repair facility prior to purchasing. AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities are located across the United States. Nearby locations can be found at AAA.com/Repair.

AAA encourages motorists to contact their insurance companies before purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle. If the vehicle was purchased prior to the discovery that it was flood-damaged, owners should contact their insurance company for advice.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 52 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the non-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited around the clock at AAA.com.

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