3 Smart Ways to Check a Used Car for Water Damage
Buying a used car can be a stressful process—one that involves wading your way through a sea of lemons before finding that diamond in the rough. And once you discover a car that appears to be in good shape, figuring out its history can be a whole different story.
As avid storm watchers, we know that flooding and severe weather can wreak havoc on vehicles. Unfortunately for buyers, that kind of damage is often easy for sellers to conceal. In the wake of major storms, severely damaged cars can end up on lots thousands of miles away, showing few signs of damage. Consider taking these steps to see whether your prospective purchase has been damaged by severe weather:
Look for cosmetic clues
Examine the car’s carpeting and upholstery to make sure it matches the rest of the interior and fits well. If not, the original may have been replaced to conceal discoloration, fading or staining caused by water damage. You should also reach under the dashboard to bend the wires and make sure they are flexible. Wires that have gotten wet will often crack after drying.
In addition, take a look at the dashboard, below the seats, and inside the trunk and glove compartment for signs of mud and rust—too much grit and grime can be a deal breaker. However, also beware if everything’s sparkling clean under the hood, as this may indicate the car has been pressure washed to remove signs of mud or soot.
Check the electrical system
Make sure to turn the car on and note that all gauges work properly. All of the internal warning lights, including ABS (anti-lock brake system) and air bag lights, should turn on when you start the ignition. You should also consider testing the headlights, turn signals, windshield wipers, radio, heater and air conditioner, as a flaw in these systems could indicate previous storm damage. If you’re unsure whether these components work, have the car inspected by a mechanic before you put any money down.
Ask for a vehicle history report
A vehicle history report can give you some key insight about a car’s life experience. These reports provide information about problems a vehicle has had in the past and can tell you whether it’s been registered in an area that’s at risk for floods or hurricanes. If the seller doesn’t give you a vehicle history report, you can use the car’s 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to obtain one online through CARFAX or a similar website, or VINCheck, a tool set up by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
When buying a used car, these simple precautions can help you make sure you get what you paid for.