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Be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles

LAWTON, Okla._Even though the flood waters have left the area, their impact lingers.

One survey shows that nearly 10,000 insured vehicles in Texas are estimated to have sustained some type of flood damage. When you consider how widespread the flooding was in southwest Oklahoma, and across the state, it's clear that used car buyers need to be on alert if they come across a deal that sounds too good to be true.

Ten thousand vehicles is a lot, but fortunately many will be crushed or stripped for useable parts. However, there will be those that slip through and show up in an auction or a car lot.

John Marchese, the sales manager at Bryan's Car Corner, says flooding in the area and nearby states means there's a risk of people trying to sell or trade in flooded cars.

"You see a lot of individuals try and move in from out of state, especially with this being a military town," said Marchese.

It means his staff has to be more vigilant when going to an auction or taking in a trade to make sure the car was safe from high waters.

"Putting your hands on it, looking, touching, feeling, smelling…those things. Those will help you determine if the vehicle has been flooded," said Marchese.

Marchese suggests looking under the hood, around the tires and underneath the car for rust or erosion. Headlights will also show if water has been inside, but looking inside the car will also let you know if there is flood damage.

"These compartments, speakers, everything here. Look for discoloration, look for staining, lift your floor mats up and smell, you can smell mold. Once that flooded scent gets in there, you can't get rid of it," explained Marchese.

This is a risk that won't go away in the coming months and needs to be on your mind when buying a used car for years to come.

"How long ago was Katrina? A customer tried to trade a vehicle in that was in Hurricane Katrina and we noticed that on the Carfax," said Marchese.

The good thing about a Carfax is even if a vehicle hasn't had a report of flood damage, but was registered in an area where flooding occurred, it'll let you know. That'll alert you to do the extra checks.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau has a complete checklist that helps you spot a flood-damaged car:

  • Select a reputable car dealer.
  • Inspect vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind dashboard.
  • Inspect the interior upholstery and door panels for fading.
  • Check for rust on screws in console or areas water normally doesn't reach.
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
  • Check for moisture, mildew or grime inside the seatbelt retractors.
  • Check door speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
  • Have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.
  • Inspect the title and ownership papers for any potential salvage fraud.
  • Look under the hood for signs of oxidation.
  • Aluminum and alloys will have a white powder and pitting.
  • Check to see if a vehicle may have been flooded using VINCheck at www.nicb.org.
  • Trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, walk away.
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