Spring On the Road

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Recognize flood damage before purchase

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flooding is one of the more common types of natural disaster across the globe. In fact, 40 percent of all disasters around the world can be attributed to flooding. Flooding causes deaths and millions of dollars worth of property damage each year.

After a particularly damaging storm, an influx of used cars may be available for purchase. Many of these vehicles have suffered some type of water-related damage. According to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, a federal database that tracks and reports vehicle title histories, after Hurricane Katrina scores of flooded vehicles were taken out of Louisiana to other states, where they were dried out, cleaned and readied for sale to unsuspecting consumers in states that do not brand the titles of flooded vehicles. Similar situations no doubt unfold after other catastrophic weather events, and it's often up to buyers to ensure they aren't purchasing a vehicle with water damage.

Recognizing whether a car or truck has been damaged by flooding is not always easy and can take a trained eye. However, certain indicators can alert prospective buyers that a vehicle was once submerged in water.

* Excessive rusting: Certain parts of a vehicle's undercarriage will rust over time, especially after exposure to weather and salt products used on roadways to combat slick surfaces. But excessive rust or flaking metal that would not normally be associated with a late-model vehicle suggests water damage. While examining the undercarriage, look for sediment, mud and plant matter that may indicate the car was once submerged in water.

* Discolored carpeting: Check for water stains on mats, on carpeting and throughout the interior of the vehicle. Another warning sign is a used car with brand new upholstery, which may indicate the interior of the vehicle was replaced due to water damage.

* Strange odors: Water damage can make a car smell like mold and mildew, not unlike a musty basement. A strong odor in the car or trunk may be a strong indicator of water damage. Also, a heavy aroma of cleaning solutions or air freshener is another telltale sign of past damage.

* Brittle wiring: Wiring that has been exposed to water and then dried often becomes brittle. Check to see if interior wires in the dash are flexible. Turn on vehicle signals to verify they are working properly.

* Fogging or water droplets: Water damage often leaves condensation behind in headlights and taillights. Fogging or droplets of water where they don't belong may indicate water damage.

* Water lines: Inspect under the hood for evidence of water. Rising water may stain metal components or leave behind a noticeable line after receding. Further evidence is diluted or milky motor oil or engine fluids that have been compromised by water infiltration.

Upon receiving insurance compensation for flooded cars, vehicles may be refurbished and resold to unsuspecting buyers. While problems associated with vehicles damaged by water may not be immediately apparent, they can present themselves over time, potentially leaving new owners with an unreliable, possibly dangerous vehicle.