How to spot a previously flooded car before you buy

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Some car buyers and sellers are concerned that cars damaged by floodwaters from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey may soon end up here in Central Virginia.

The Better Business Bureau is warning that it’s not a matter of IF the damaged cars will come, but WHEN the cars with major flood damage will be sold here at home.

At Haley Buick GMC on Midlothian Turnpike, their lot is full of cars, but they go the extra mile to make sure flooded cars don’t end up here.

“Our reputation is invaluable to us, we want to make sure what we are representing and selling to the general public is true and accurate,” said Ernie Simopoulos, with Haley Buick GMC.

One way they do that is by researching every car they buy locally or at auction and right now they are shying away from many cars.

“We’re online all day long trying to buy cars, and you just have to know what to look at and what not to, and obviously right now, I hate to say it, we’re not actively looking at cars in the Houston area or South Florida,” said Simopoulos.

The risk is just too high. A Carfax employee showed ABC News that just in a matter of hours, it’s possible to take a flooded car and make it look presentable. So what should you look out for?

“When you open the vehicle I think the first thing you do when you get in it, your nose should tell you something. If you have a mildew smell inside that would be a tip-off to you,” said Simopoulos.

Haley Buick GMC says your biggest risk for finding a flooded car is when you are buying from a smaller used car lot or directly from another person. Another place to look for flood damage, according to Simopoulos, is beneath the seats.

“The seat tracks, underneath the seats here,” said Simopoulos. “If for some reason the vehicle was submerged, it’s really hard once saltwater and things like that get on this metal for it not to be corroded and have issues.

Also, check under the hood. While many perfectly fine cars will have some rust. Look for it in specific areas.

“You would look at little things like the nuts and bolts right up here, these vehicles all look fine, you don’t see any rust on these at all. You would look at things like, is there a trash line or anything around this area,” said Simopoulos.

And the best rule of thumb is if it seems way too good to be true, it may be, but do your homework.

The BBB says to not just rely on a car history report, because they can be misleading due to lag time between post updates.

Ask if you can take the car to a 3rd party dealership of your choice for a check-up, if the seller refuses, the BBB says walk away.

Finally, the dealership we spoke with says since estimates show roughly 2 million used cars have been wiped out, right now there is a shortage of used cars and prices are starting to rise due to demand.

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