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With the passing of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there is a heightened risk for car buyers to find themselves considering a flood-damaged car while shopping for a pre-owned vehicle.

These cars usually begin to show up in the aftermarket from day to weeks to months after significant flooding events have taken place. It has happened before and you can be sure it will happen again. In order to help car shoppers avoid these money pits, we put together a list of conditions to watch out for, call it a Used Car Buyers Guide to Avoiding a Water-damaged Vehicle.

  1. BRING A FLASHLIGHT. And use it! Look in hard-to-reach area, both inside and out. Your eyes and nose can lead you to evidence of water damage.
  2. SMELL IT! If a vehicle has sustained flood damage, it will take an extremely thorough detail to eliminate the musty, dirty odor of flood water. If there is excessive perfume or “new car smell” scent pumped into the interior, be cautious and stay alert for further signs of flooding.
  3. GET DOWN AND LOOK. Look in the wheel wells and in the bottom of the trunk and engine compartment for evidence of a water line or dirt line, where flood waters might have stood. Use that flashlight. Look under the seats, under the dash, and along the bottoms of open doors for evidence of surface rust on any metal components. Under normal usage, these areas should not have rust on them, unless of course they were sitting in water. These spots are difficult to clean if they get rusty.
  4. FEEL FOR IT. Run your hands along the carpets, into the corners both in the passenger compartment as well as in the trunk, and feel for moisture. Carpets, sound insulation and padding take a long time to dry out, and they may never dry fully unless completely removed from the car, an operation most sellers would not undertake. If you can, lift the carpet up and check the floorboards for rust or excessive dirt.
  5. LOOK AT THE LIGHTS. Look into the lenses of headlights, fog lights, and taillights for fogging. When submerged, these areas tend to retain moisture, and will usually fog up.
  6. LIFT THE SPARE. Look in the bottom of the spare tire well for moisture or dirt. These are often overlooked areas where residue collects.
  7. WORK THEM OVER. Turn on and cycle through ALL of the electrical accessories such as interior and exterior lights, horn, wipers, electric seats, seat heaters and coolers, HVAC system, radio, and glovebox lighting. If anything does not function or is weak, that may indicate water intrusion.
  8. RUN THE CHECK. Pay the $20 for a complete vehicle title check, do not rely on a partial, “free” title search. Autocheck and Carfax offer complete title records from about $25. It is worth it.
  9. HAVE IT INSPECTED! When you have found the car for you, and it has passed all of the above checkouts, make the final smart move and pay the money to have a reputable independent repair shop perform a full appraisal. Set aside a couple hundred dollars for the appraisal/inspection, BEFORE you sign your name on the purchase contract. If the private seller or dealer is reluctant to allow an inspection, run away from that car, it’s a red flag for trouble. Often times, a thorough inspection can find issues with a vehicle that can be used to negotiate the price in your favor. Reputable sellers will have no problem with you getting their vehicle checked out by a professional. A paid inspection should include a written report on the vehicle, often containing pictures of areas of concern, and clear explanations of everything that was checked out. When investing tens of thousands of dollars on a pre-owned vehicle, $300 is very inexpensive insurance that you are getting what you expect to receive in that car purchase.

Visit for further information, or call our service advisors at 312-432-9492 for all maintenance, repair, or inspection needs for your European vehicle.