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How to spot a flooded vehicle when used-car shopping

Watch out for flooded cars when used...

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - More than a million vehicles are estimated to have flooded in Texas, Louisiana and Florida during hurricanes Harvey and Irma; and there is concern many of those cars could end up on our lots in eastern Idaho and Wyoming.

Carfax estimates more than 325,000 flooded cars are back in use this year. Up to 1,000 of those are brought to Idaho and Wyoming -- but these stats don't include the flooded car totals after the hurricanes.

That used car you are considering might look like its a great shape, but under the surface a lot could be damaged.

"Everything. I mean you can have mold accumulation inside, obviously from everything being damp. You're going to have mechanical problems," said Dan McCartney, the sale manager at Hertz Car Rentals on Woodruff Avenue.

"The computers are going to quit, your windows aren't going to work, your power seat aren't going to work -- so all of your electronics are not going to work short term. Long term is the frame will start rusting out the metal from the inside will rust outward and the paint will start flaking when that metal starts rusting," said Paxton Likness, the owner of Dependable Auto Sales.

Its takes time for rust to build up and for your engine to fail, but if enough water does get in there: "It totals your car, if its an extended period of time, its toast. It's trashed," said McCartney.

Looks can be deceiving, which is why used car dealerships like Hertz and Dependable Auto Sales say they do what they can to prevent from putting these cars on their lots in the first place.

"I know what to look for because I have bought cars in the past that have with floods. I'll look at the seat tracks, I'll look underneath the dash for any kind of rust. If it's salt water, all your metal components will have a speckle of white on it. Fresh water will do the normal rust that we see," said Likness.

Carfaxes, AutoChecks, and checking titles; the dealerships say they go through many channels to make sure the car they bring to you checks out.

"A lot of our cars just come from this half of the country. Minnesota, across the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho and Utah," said McCartney.

Whether you are looking into buying a used car in the near future from a dealer or from Craigslist, consider this as well: "Get them checked by a mechanic. If they're not willing to let you do that, don't buy the car. Just walk away -- there's a problem with it they don't want you to find," said McCartney.

Here is what to look out for and some tips when buying a used vehicle:

  • Water stains, mold, mud or sand under the carpets, seats, floor mats, inside roof cloth and under the dashboard.
  • Rusty metal inside the car, as the inside of a car does not usually rust.
  • Musty odors in the trunk and passenger compartment, especially when running the air conditioning or heat.
  • Fog or moisture inside interior and exterior lights and excessive fogging of windows and condensation on windows.
  • Oil or transmission fluid that is milky or has water beads.
  • Electrical components that operate erratically, including power windows, power seats, power locks, sunroof, radio, Bluetooth, lights, windshield wipers, air conditioning, heat and automatic doors.
  • Don't buy without seeing the vehicle — if you are buying from out of state, plan a trip to check the vehicle, instead of relying on photos.
  • Look for signs of cosmetic work — these include a fresh paint job, recently shampooed or replaced carpeting or freshly cleaned upholstery that may have been performed subsequent to flooding.
  • Check under the carpeting — pull up a corner of the carpeting (both in the passenger compartment and trunk), and check for water residue, stain marks, signs of rust, and/or evidence of mold or a musty odor.
  • Search for other signs of damage — check under the dashboard for brittle wiring and evidence of dried mud and other deposits. Look for rust on screws in the center console and other areas that might have been submerged.
  • Get it thoroughly checked by a mechanic — before putting down a deposit, get a qualified mechanic to examine the vehicle from top to bottom. You can never know what they will find. Spending $50 for the inspection may save you money in the long run. 

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