NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. (8/20/13)--Warning to bargain hunters on used-car lots: More than 212,000 flood-damaged cars, many of them from Superstorm Sandy, are making their way across the country and could end up in a dealership near you, according to new data from Carfax (Bankrate.com
Referred to as "sandy cars," these water-logged vehicles that sat in corrosive saltwater appear safe on the outside but are rotting on the inside and dangerous to drive. Common problems include damage to critical components like computer and electrical systems, which could lead to antilock braking and airbag system failures.
Scam artists grab cars that have been paid out as total losses on insurance claims and try to resell them. The hucksters know they're more likely to bilk unsuspecting buyers if they move damaged cars far from areas hard-hit by hurricanes or floods. If you're not checking for signs of flooding, you could wind up paying thousands in costly repair bills--or worse if you're in an accident.
Carfax offers these tips to avoid flood-damaged vehicles:
Take a deep breath. Smell for musty odors from mildew, particularly on upholstery and in the trunk.
Dig around. Open the glove compartment, check the trunk, and look below the seats for signs of water damage--silt, mud, or rust.
Check for stains. Discolored or faded materials could indicate water damage. New upholstery or carpeting that doesn't match the interior may indicate it has been replaced. Be suspicious of new carpeting on a 10-year-old car.
Look for corrosion clues. Rust on screws, door hinges, hood springs, trunk latches, or brackets under the dashboard indicate those metals had significant contact with water.
Turn the ignition key. Make sure the accessory and warning lights come on and work properly. Also confirm that airbag and ABS (anti-brake system) lights come on.
Look at lamps. If the headlights and taillights appear foggy, water may have accumulated inside. The instrument panel and interior/exterior mirrors also may have moisture that never evaporated.
Do a background check. Ask to see a vehicle history report, which can reveal past problems. Was the vehicle titled or registered in at-risk areas during recent flood and hurricane seasons?
Finally, deal with reputable dealers, and always have used vehicles checked by a trusted mechanic before handing over your money.
For more information, watch "Find the Best Low-Cost, High-Value Car" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.