Beware buying flood-damaged vehicle


Special to the Altus Times



Flooding in parts of Oklahoma have partially and in some cases, totally submerged cars and pickups. Potential car buyers need to know that these vehicles may be making their way into the used car marketplace, maybe not today or next week, but soon. AAA Oklahoma says it is important to know if the used car you are thinking of buying has been damaged by water.

“In addition to the obvious damage done to upholstery and carpeting, flood water is a corrosive and abrasive mixture of water, contaminants and dirt that forces its way into every seam and crevice of an automobile,” said Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “If the car has been completely or partially submerged, it’s possible some or all mechanical and electronic parts will need to be disassembled and thoroughly cleaned or replaced.”

“Most vulnerable are the engine, transmission, steering and braking systems,” Mai said. “Unless completely removed, dirt and other contaminants can cause premature wear of vital components and shorten the life of the vehicle.”

Before attempting to start a flood-damaged car, a qualified technician should:

* Inspect all mechanical components, including the engine, transmission, steering system, axles, brake system and fuel system for water contamination.

* Drain flood water from contaminated mechanical systems and flush with clean water or a solvent, as appropriate.

* Drain and replace all contaminated fluids, such as oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power-steering fluid and antifreeze.

“The car’s electrical system also is vulnerable to the damaging effects of flood water and water-sensitive components may need to be replaced,” Mai said. “Engine computers and other electronic devices can sometimes be salvaged, but corrosion and oxidation can occur several weeks after the components are cleaned.”

There are many parts of the car that are difficult to clean and dry because they are virtually inaccessible. Door locks, window regulators, wiring harnesses, heating and air conditioning components and many small devices are tucked away in hidden spaces. These items may fail at a later date because of contamination by dirty water.

“Total restoration of a flood-damaged car can be as extensive and expensive as restoring a classic car,” Mai warned.

Car buyers should be aware that flood-damaged vehicles can be shipped anywhere for resale and could be in the marketplace for many months. Having a vehicle inspected by a qualified technician and checking its title history will help determine whether it sustained flood damage.

A telltale sign of flood damage on new and used cars is the presence of dried mud on components under the hood. A damp or musty odor in the trunk or interior is another warning sign. In older cars, new carpet and upholstery may indicate flood damage.

Flex some of the wires beneath the dash board. Wet wires will become brittle upon drying and may crack.

When considering a used car purchase, a AAA approved auto repair facility can perform a thorough pre-purchase mechanical inspection. The locations of AAA approved repair facilities in Oklahoma can be found at AAA.com/AAR.

Use the 17-digit vehicle identification number or VIN, located on the dashboard, to check out the vehicle’s history using Carfax vehicle history reports, available at AAA.com/carfax. These reports can reveal many hidden problems in a vehicle’s past, including flood titles. But remember that Carfax only has the data that has been reported to insurance companies, law enforcement or other agencies. If the vehicle you’re thinking of buying was not reported to have been in a flood, the Carfax will not show that information.

Special to the Altus Times

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