Money Matters, Under the Hood

How To Avoid Buying A Flood-Damaged Used Car In Kansas City

April 11, 2019

It’s already plenty nerve-wracking buying a used car. You might wonder if there’s an underlying mechanical problem or worry about the after-effects of a previous accident. Now, with the recent flooding along the Missouri River, there’s one more thing to worry about: whether or not the car you’re considering has been damaged by a flood. It’s an unfortunate reality for some shoppers, as thousands of cars from all over Kansas City have been damaged by water, then cleaned up for sale. How do you spot one of these vehicles?

Signs of Flood Damage in a Used Car or Truck

A few specific signs can indicate an issue with past water damage:

  • Water lines or condensation in the lights. Unless the lights were completely replaced, you may be able to detect the faint signs of water lines or condensation on the lens or reflector of the front or rear vehicle lights. These are hard to clean completely.
  • Damp, musty carpets & mats (or brand-new carpeting). The carpets can give you a great clue about past water damage. If they were not removed right away and carefully dried, they’ll still smell like dirty water or mold. Check underneath the floor mats for any sign of unusual grime or mud. Obviously, if carpeting was just replaced, you might inquire as to why, as this is not normal.
  • Rusty screws under the dash. These screw heads are easiest to inspect and most likely to lose their paint under normal conditions of use. The trick is that without paint or protection, the bare metal of these screws will rust quickly after being exposed to water. Under the hood and around the doors are other good places to check screws.
  • Trunk odors. The trunk might be one of the most difficult places to completely get rid of mud and mildew, and you’ll be able to smell any issues. An overpowering scent of cleaners or bleach can also be a concern. Again, if all the carpeting was just replaced, you should ask about it. And be sure to check the wheel well, where the spare tire is kept — that’s a great place for mud and debris to collect after a flood.
  • Mud under panels or brackets. Look for places that would be hard to clean. A used vehicle is going to have some accumulation of dirt but it shouldn’t look like mud was just wiped off on those areas.

Most flood damage cannot be repaired, so be wary of any private seller who claims they have reconditioned their vehicle after Kansas City floods! If the vehicle hasn’t been repaired by a qualified Kansas City body shop, mechanic, or service center, you should be cautious.

What to Do if You Find a Flood-Damaged Car

You may be just fine with the car for several months or even a couple of years, and then you’ll find that important parts are failing at an unusually high rate. The problem with water damage is that it can have long-lasting impacts, including the following:

  • Corrosion that begins with the water exposure can continue to weaken key components of the vehicle.
  • Important fluids can get diluted and have ongoing effects from not being the right strength.
  • The electrical system may be compromised, and that can lead to issues with safety features like seat belt warning lights and airbag sensors.
  • In addition to physical signs of water damage, some flooded vehicles may have rebuilt or salvage titles without specifically indicating that they were submerged. However, if the previous owner did not make an insurance claim, the title may be clean. If you have doubts, it’s best to look somewhere else for your used car.

So, when you see indicators of flood damage, it’s best for your pocketbook if you just say, “No thanks.” Even a car or truck that’s been reconditioned may have ongoing issues that simply can’t be fixed through drying out and replacing upholstery or carpeting.

How to Make Sure You Buy a “Clean” Used Vehicle

There is a good way to make sure you buy a solid used car or truck that hasn’t been flooded: look for certified used vehicles with the guarantee of a reputable Kansas City car dealership or local used car lot. Plus, when you buy a certified used vehicle, you may receive some extra bonuses and additional benefits for peace of mind, like:

  • Copy of the vehicle’s Carfax report that details its past
  • Record of a completed, multipoint mechanical inspection
  • An extended exchange period, in case you aren’t happy with your purchase
  • An extended powertrain warranty that guarantees you’ll get service and repairs if anything goes wrong

You don’t have to get stuck with a lemon or a flood-damaged car. With a thorough inspection and common sense, your chances of spotting water damage are high. And remember: To make sure you’re buying a reliable used vehicle, look for a certified used program at your dealership. It’s illegal to sell a flood-damaged used vehicle, and do you really think a car dealer would take that chance? It’s your safest bet. Good luck with your search!


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