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How to Deal with Flooded Cars in Harvey's Wake

Tips and signs to protect yourself from purchasing vehicles damaged in flood waters. Tips and signs to protect yourself from purchasing vehicles damaged in flood waters. |  Photo: WDIO, File

TOM KRISHER and DEE-ANN DURBIN AP Auto Writers
September 05, 2017 11:09 AM

DETROIT (AP) - Auto industry experts estimate that 500,000 to 1 million cars, trucks, and SUVs were damaged by floodwaters from Harvey.

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Most will have so much water damage that they can't be fixed, and insurance companies will declare them total losses.

Yet the damaged cars could be retitled and sold to unsuspecting buyers nationwide. But experts warn against buying the cars because the damage could be hidden for years before causing problems.

If you own a flooded car, experts say it shouldn't be started.

Instead, have it towed to a mechanic. But if flood waters got higher than the bottom of the body, it's possible the car can't be fixed.

State Farm Insurance has a Vehicle Flood Damage Checklist if your vehicle ever gets caught in a flood.

  • Survey potential damage. How high did the waters get in relation to your car?
  • Don't try to start your car — this will cause more damage if there is water in the engine.
  • Act quickly. Start drying out your vehicle as quickly as possible, and contact a towing service to get it back to higher ground.
  • Look under the hood. This is where you'll find clues as to how extensive the flood damage may be. Unless you're an auto expert, you may want to seek advice from a mechanic.
  • Clean the interior. If floodwaters were more than a few feet deep, water probably made it to the inside of your car. Remove all moisture by using a wet/dry vacuum to collect standing water, and cloth towels to absorb water that has soaked into the seats and carpet. Use fans and dehumidifiers to accelerate the drying process. 

Consumer Reports offers tips on how to spot a flood-damaged car, and other signs to be wary of when purchasing a used car.

  • Inspect the carpets to see if they show signs of having been waterlogged, such as smelling musty. New carpets in an older vehicle may be a red flag.
  • Check the seat-mounting screws to see if there is any evidence that they have been removed in order to dry the carpets effectively.
  • Inspect the lights. Headlights and taillights are expensive to replace, and a visible water line may still show on the lens or the reflector.
  • Inspect the difficult-to-clean places, such as gaps between panels in the trunk and under the hood. Waterborne mud and debris may still appear in these places.
  • Look at the heads of any unpainted, exposed screws under the dashboard. Unpainted metal in flood cars will show signs of rust.

Credits

TOM KRISHER and DEE-ANN DURBIN AP Auto Writers

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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