How to spot water damage in your vehicle

It is estimated that half a million cars have been destroyed by Hurricane Harvey’s torrential rains, and over one million cars have at least some water damage. Many of these vehicles will be sold at auction and repaired so that they can be resold. Buyers of previously owned vehicles need to know how to spot a water-damaged vehicle. It can be tricky, so here are some things to look out for.

A musty odor or overly strong air freshener

Mildew and musty odors are signs that a car has been exposed to lots of water. It is extremely difficult to eliminate those odors, and the strong smell of an air fresher is a good clue that some unpleasant odor is being covered up.

A good rule of thumb is to get in the vehicle, close all doors and windows, and sit there for a few minutes. Crack the door open a bit and see if you detect any strange odor. Be sure to turn on the air conditioner to see if there are any unusual odors coming through the vents.

Damp spots

Check the interior for damp spots, paying special attention under the seats since these areas can be harder to dry out. If you find a damp spot, try to lift the carpet to check the padding. Foam padding retains moisture much longer than the carpet. Inspect the carpet in the trunk as well.

Mismatched carpets

If the vehicle’s carpets are not a consistent color throughout or if there are different amounts of wear, take note. It could be that the seller has just replaced some carpet to make it more attractive. However, it could be that a flooded area and pad have been replaced to reduce odor and mildew. Also, compare doors and roof to see if they have the same wear and age.

Look for condensation or moisture

*In instrument panel gauges and electronics – Look for moisture trapped behind the plastic. With your flashlight, look under the dashboard, in the console, and behind the radio face and gauge cluster.

*Foggy headlights and taillights – Look at all lamps on the car, along with exterior mirrors. If water has accumulated in them, they will appear foggy or cloudy.

Look for dirt and debris build-up

Floodwater is always filled with all types of debris, from dirt and grass to sand and leaves. Debris such as this does not drain when the water goes down. While you are inspecting the vehicle for other signs of flooding, also check the trunk, under the dashboard, in and under the glove compartment, engine nooks, under the spare tires, under the seats, and around wiring for this type of debris.

Do a title and VIN check

Requesting a vehicle history report yourself will give you detailed documentation of the history of the car. On the title look for the stamp “salvage” or “flood.” A vehicle that is titled “salvage” means it was considered too damaged to be worth fixing.

Check for excessive rust or corrosion

It would not be unusual for a 20-year-old car to have some corrosion and rust, but not so much on a vehicle that is only five years old. Both are often seen in flood-damaged vehicles. Check both the interior and the exterior, including brackets, springs, latches, screws, and hinges.

Test drive the car

Listen to the ignition and the engine for anything that sounds strange. Check those headlights, dashboard lights, turn signals, wipers, and air conditioner to see if they are working properly. Even turn on the radio to not only listen to the sound but to look at the system itself. If it looks new for the age of the car, it could have been replaced because the vehicle was flooded.

Get an expert’s opinion

They will be able to do a more inclusive inspection and check hidden electrical parts to see if they have been replaced. An expert will be able to examine places you probably will not be able to, such a pumps and some mechanical parts. It will be worth the cost and may prevent a serious problem down the road.

If you suspect your vehicle has water damage or want an expert to take a closer look, visit Lost Pines Toyota or schedule your appointment today.