With all the flooding here and on the Gulf Coast recently, the Kansas Insurance Department is warning car buyers to watch out for vehicles that may have been unintentionally dunked.
Whenever there’s significant flooding, as there has been this summer, shady sellers go into action to obtain and deal cars that have been doused and cosmetically cleaned up, said Bob Hanson of the Insurance Department, which issued a consumer alert this week.
“It’s one of those buyer beware things,” Hanson said. “There are always some people who are trying to game the system.”
A car that’s been drowned and resuscitated can have any number of problems that might not show up immediately.
With grandpa’s pickup, it wasn’t that big a deal. Air intakes and vital electronics were on top of the engine and the electrical systems were simple and fairly robust. Mold and rust from inadequate drying were probably the biggest threats if it hadn’t been completely submerged.
A newer car will likely suffer significant damage if the water gets as high as three-fourths of the way up the wheels.
But the computer-controlled vehicles of today are way more susceptible to flood damage, said Tanner Clay, senior technician at South Seneca Auto Care. He said a newer car will likely suffer significant damage if the water gets as high as three-fourths of the way up the wheels.
Floodwater seeps into computer connectors and circuit boards, eventually causing corrosion that leads to intermittent problems and ultimately complete system failures. Air bag safety systems are especially at risk because the controlling computers are usually floor-mounted, he said.
Also, the air intakes on newer cars are mounted lower in the engine bay, increasing the chance that a car driven into a deep spot will suck in water and suffer significant engine damage, Clay said.
It’s one of those buyer beware things. There are always some people who are trying to game the system. Bob Hanson, Kansas Insurance Department
Even if a car’s parked when it’s flooded, water can contaminate the oil and get into the engines’ cylinders, washing away vital lubrication and causing damage to the cylinder walls, he said.
A good way to tell if a car has been flooded is to peel up part of the carpet and look for signs of dried mud, rust or mold that would indicate that water had been above the floorboards, he said.
This year, the concern over flooded cars centers mainly on Louisiana, inundated last month by more than 30 inches of rain in what authorities are calling the worst flood since Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard in 2012.
Vehicles which have been declared flood damaged or designated as salvage vehicles in other parts of the United States could end up in Kansas masquerading as acceptable used-car selections. Ken Selzer, Kansas Insurance Commissioner
“Vehicles which have been declared flood damaged or designated as salvage vehicles in other parts of the United States could end up in Kansas masquerading as acceptable used-car selections,” Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer said in the department’s alert.
Buyers should also watch out for cars that may have been damaged in floods this summer in southern Kansas counties, Hanson said.
He recommended buyers check the registration history when considering buying a used car to make sure it hasn’t been “title scrubbed.”
That’s an industry term for reregistering a car in one or more states to mask if it came from a flood zone and to paper over salvage titles and insurance damage claims.
While legitimate dealerships are unlikely to try to pass flood-damaged vehicles off onto unsuspecting buyers, “there are always some unscrupulous people who are doing something like that,” Hanson said.
Red flags for flooded cars
▪ Check to see if the vehicle’s been retitled recently or multiple times in a short time period. If you see an insurance company’s name on the title, contact the company to ensure it hasn’t been totaled and salvaged.
▪ Get a vehicle history report from the dealer.
▪ Check for a musty or moldy smell, or a strong scent of deodorizer.
▪ Check under the carpet and in the spare-tire wheel well for signs of dried mud, rust or water.
▪ See if electrical wires in the engine compartment are stiff. They should be pliable if they haven’t been exposed to water.
▪ Look for rust on metal where you would not normally find it.
▪ Check the air filter for any indications of water.
▪ Check the oil and transmission fluid dipsticks. Lighter, discolored fluids can indicate water seepage into the engine.
▪ Check the National Insurance Crime Bureau (www.nicb.org) VINCheck, a database to determine, through the Vehicle Identification Number, if a vehicle has been declared as salvage or is stolen.
Source: Kansas Insurance Department