Sometimes, if a deal on a used car seems too good to be true, that's because it is.
Sometimes, if a deal on a used car seems too good to be true, that's because it is. Although there are a number of different industry systems in place to protect you from ending up parking a lemon in your driveway, you still have to keep your wits about you when shopping for a second-hand vehicle - especially if you're presented with a price that undercuts the other automobiles you've looked at by a fairly high margin.
Often these 'bargain' cars are hiding a skeleton or two in their respective closets, and that can include the most difficult-to-spot danger sign you can encounter on a used car lot: a vehicle that has been the past victim of a flood. Being submerged in water - even for a short time - can be traumatic to even the newest automobile, and flood vehicles should be avoided at all costs.
Check out these 4 tell-tale signs that a car has been flood-damaged so you can avoid making an expensive mistake.
A Branded Title Or Registration
The first thing you should do when you suspect a used car might have been involved in a flood is to check its title/registration history. There are several online services that allow you to do this, and some provinces also make their records open to the public online or after a quick phone call. Keep your eyes peeled for any insurance activity that indicates there could have been a major repair or pay-out in the vehicle's past, or an indication that a serious accident or event had occurred. You might not see words like 'flood' written in the records, but if a vehicle has ever been totalled (as flood cars often are), most of the time you'll terms such as 'rebuilt' or 'reconstructed' in its history and follow-up with the seller for more details.
Persistent Electrical Issues
If you test drive a car and it shows unusual behaviour - such as turn signals that don't work, lights that flicker or flash on and off on their own, or LCD screens and gauge clusters that show strange information - you should immediately start thinking that there's something more to the issue than a blown fuse or worn wiring. Flood cars deal with more than their fair share of electrical issues because water corrodes wires and relays from the inside. The end result is a host of electrical problems that can frustrating, if not impossible, to properly diagnose and repair.
Rust In Unusual Places
It's not just the wiring in a flood-damaged car that has to deal with corrosion. Even if only partially submerged, a flooded vehicle sees water leak into places that were never meant to get wet, included unpainted metal and nooks and crannies that may have no drainage available in their design. It can be hard to spot this kind of rust, but if you're suspicious start your inspection with spots that are not exposed to the weather during normal operation: door and trunk hinges, under the hood along the firewall, and if you can, underneath the carpets in the passenger compartment. If rust shows up in any of these areas, especially on a recently used car, it's a strong indication that the vehicle was under water.
Strange Odours Or Stains
Carpets, seats, and the headliner of a vehicle don't react well to floodwater, especially considering that it is rarely clean, often mixes with sewage, mud, and other debris, or in a worst-case scenario is salty brine from the sea. Exposure to a flood often means a risk of mould forming on or behind trim pieces, even after they have been cleaned, and sometimes the stains simply can't be removed. The smell of mildew or visible discoloration on interior panels is a sure-fire sign that a car has been flood-damaged and it's time to walk away.