Cooley On Cars
How to spot a car that has flood damageIt's a soggy mess out there in car lots, don't get stuck with one.
[MUSIC] Well, I gotta tell you, I'm always amazed how homes can get flooded, and then carpenters and contractors go in there and they cut away the bad stuff and fix it. And it's amazing what they can do. With cars, it's the opposite. Once a car's flooded, it's junk. [MUSIC] So all I've got for you, in terms of advice, is how to avoid one, not how to fix one. And it starts off by realizing you wanna get away from these vehicles. And that starts by taking a look at the title status. Literally, on the actual title paperwork, on the electronic record. You're looking to see if it's been declared a salvaged. Or especially, in some states, a flood salvaged vehicle. They probably shouldn't ever be on the market again, but in many cases they will be. A reputable seller, whoever it may be, should disclose to you, this car's got a salvage or flood title, and reduce the price accordingly. But there's Plenty of non-reputable types out there. That's where the NMVTIS comes in, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. And here is where all insurance companies report in when they have totaled a car, especially due to flooding. Here's the problem, though. About 13 states either don't play ball or only partially play ball with this system so far. That creates the area for a loophole. And as you probably have noticed, this is all tied to insurance. If a car never goes through insurance after a flood because either it gets traded in to a dealer or the owner never had insurance, then it completely stays off the flood title radar, and that's bad news for you the potential buyer. But even after you've gone and checked your databases and looked into all the different records out there, there's still the possibility that the title status is B.S. because of what's called title washing. Because of a fair number of states out there that are a little wishy washy in titling don't adopt the same terminology or don't report into the same master databases, you can take a car from one state, move it into one of these other states and suddenly it loses its salvage or flood status. And poof all of a sudden it is apparently a perfectly normal car, when it's anything but. Now here is where those fee based record services can be useful, the Carfaxes and Autochecks and things like that. They may show you more data like where the car was registered, where it had a smog check, or where it had a repair and that can help you Kind of read the tea leaves as to whether or not a car was in a flood zone on the date of a major flood event. It's not ironclad but it helps you. And then after all of this data searching, you've got to get your hands dirty. First of all when you get in, does it smell mildewy? A car really shouldn't ever smell mildewy, not a modern one. They're built like a little hermetically sealed Chamber. Look underneath carpets, not just floor mats, but under the actual carpet. Pull it around the foot well and look down to the floor pan. Look for moisture, weird stains. Pull up the carpet in the trunk. Pull up the board that covers the spare, if there's one, look in that well. Look underneath the dashboard as well. Look for any signs that there was a water level that came down, kind of a ring around the toilet. Up underneath the dash or anywhere along the kick panels. All of that makes no sense unless a car was flooded, and that's a good chance for you to go the other direction. One of my favorites, by the way, if the car has any exposed threaded bolts sticking up where the seats bolt down, those seem to rust almost immediately if a car gets wet inside. It's one of the first places I look for corrosion. If you want a car that goes in the water happily, you need to buy one of these. Otherwise, avoid them at all costs. [MUSIC]