Car shoppers beware: flooded vehicles showing up on used car lots

Many flooded cars expected to make their way to Austin

Auto inspectors in Austin expecting many flood-damaged cars to show up at local used car lots after Harvey.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Harvey’s floodwaters could cause problems for people shopping for used cars for months to come. Nearly 1,000,000 vehicles were damaged during the hurricane, and now, a good number of them are expected to begin showing up at used car lots.

“After a big storm, we will almost always get a car or two in that has suffered some water damage,” said Joe Lamping, owner of Flamingo Automotive.

Lamping founded the automotive shop nearly 30 years ago and does regular used vehicle inspections. He says Harvey will make way for a lot of dishonest car sales.

“There are thousands of cars that went underwater,” he said. “So there are going to be a lot of cars flooding the market that are going to have some problems with them.”

Lamping says many could end up in Austin, leaving local car customers with thousands of dollars in damage down the road.

“There’s a lot of potential big expenses and reliability problems that will pop up once you start driving that car,” he said. “Things that may not manifest the first time you go to take it for a test drive, may not show up for a few months or a year down the road.”

Lamping recommends that customers always check inside used vehicles they’re considering buying. He says there are several telltale signs of flood damage.

“When cars have been submerged, you’ll see that there will be actual dirt and grit that’s tucked under the weather stripping,” he said.

He adds that a musty smell will usually also be present. He recommends customers check floor mats because water stains could be visible underneath. Changes in the floor mats could also be a giveaway.

“Does it still have the original floor mats, or has someone thrown these away and put another set of floor mats in it?” he tells customers to ask themselves. “If a car comes in and a lot of the floor mats are gone, a lot of times they haven’t got them properly dried out. Or, they’ve put new mats in to try to cover up the smell.”

However, Lamping says even if customers don’t find any issues on their own, a thorough inspection should always be performed.

“The services that come out and do them on the ground in a parking lot, that’s okay,” he said. “It’s better than not having anything looked at. But to really get a good look at it, it needs to come on a lift and have a trained professional look at it.”

Lamping says many signs of a flooded car manifest underneath it and can only be found when it’s put on a lift. Generally, vehicle inspections cost around $100 to $150.

“When you’re making that big of a significant purchase, you need to have that information and know what’s going on with the car so you don’t have surprises once you own it,” Lamping said.

He adds that mechanics can find issues with mechanical components and airbag sensors, which are usually located under the seats and don’t take well to water.

“That becomes a safety issue,” he said of airbag sensors that have been damaged by water. “Not just leaving you stranded or not wanting to start, but if the airbags don’t deploy in a wreck, that’s not good.”

CARFAX is offering a free check of any vehicle’s history to determine if it has flood damage. Car shoppers can simply enter the car’s VIN number online.

But, Lamping reminds consumers that not all damage is reported to insurance companies, and if flooding damage wasn’t, it might not show up on sites like CARFAX.

“That information is helpful, but certainly not comprehensive,” he said.

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