How to Assess Water Damaged Cars
Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, but as we see reported in the news daily, it has left lasting damage and destruction throughout the greater New York, New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut area in its wake. In that connection, as people assess the damage, many are asking what to check for to see how your car has been affected by flooding. This article compiles a list from a variety of helpful sources for those affected by the storm.
Most Common Issues for Water Damaged Cars
The most common damage encountered during flooding includes electrical damage, engine damage and fuel supply damage. There may obviously also be cosmetic damages to consider including but not limited to mud in foot wells and moldy seats, however, electrical or other damage may vary depending on how long the vehicle was submerged and how deep the water was. Engine damage is the most expensive but usually is not incurred unless the car’s air intake or carburetor was submerged while the engine was still running. Fuel supply damage isn’t usually detected for years. The usual cause is when water seeps in through the overflow valve of the gas tank.
Watch the video above on flood damaged cars sold after Katrina.
Where to Look for Car Water Damage
As the greater NY/NJ/CT tri-state region underwent extensive flooding due to Hurricane Sandy, it’s also important to know what to look for if you are looking to buy a car privately. CARFAX , Autos.com, and Forbes articles help to explain specifically where you should investigate if your car – or a car you are interested in buying – has been exposed to flooding and what to do, including:
- Check under the car, above the gas tank for silt, and debris, which if present would indicate the car has been flooded.
- Rust in the trunk or glove compartment would also be a sign of water damage.
- Take a deep breath and smell for musty odors from mildew. If the car smells musty or moldy, or it looks like the original upholstery has been replaced, it more than likely has been water damaged.
- Check interior carpets, upholstery and door and trim panels for dampness. Simply drying these out will not be a solution to the problem as mold could still occur. Discolored, faded or stained materials could indicate water damage.
- Do an inspection of the suspension joints and lubricate as necessary.
- Inspect the exterior lights for moisture and water. Replace headlights and bulbs showing signs of water intrusion.
- Inspect the undercarriage, bumpers, radiator area and frame for mud, grass, dirt, debris, etc.. To avoid rust you must wash and clean these areas as soon as possible.
- Check the air filter for signs of water intrusion. Replace the air filter and change the oil, if necessary.
- Car water damage can impact engine oil and transmission fluids and electrical plugs and wires. First check the fluids. If they appear milky, diluted, no longer their original color then they are probably contaminated.
- Abnormal noises while the engine is running may be a sign of car water damage. Make a note of where the noise is coming from and take the vehicle to a mechanic as soon as possible.
- Turn the ignition key and make sure that accessory and warning lights and gauges come on and work properly. Make sure the airbag and ABS lights come on.
- Test lights (interior and exterior), windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
- Flex some of the wires beneath the dashboard. Wet wires will become brittle upon drying and may crack.
Have Your Mechanic Look at the Flood Damaged Vehicle
If the extensive to-do list above may understandably be too much for you to attempt on your own, or simply too time consuming, an alternative is to have a professional take a look at your vehicle and assess the damage. Note that it is also important to know what type of water the car was submerged in. Salt water is corrosive and can do heavy damage not only to the body of the car but also to the electronics. If the car has been submerged in fresh water, rebuilding may be a possibility, but not the least expensive option.
Water Damage Statistics
Carfax also offered a few interesting statistics about flood damage from hurricanes and tropical storms. Hurricane Floyd damaged 75,000 vehicles in 1999. In 2001 Tropical Storm Allison damaged more than 95,000 vehicles. Hurricane Ivan damaged more than 100,000 cars in 2004. Although we do not have specific numbers from Sandy yet, clearly the number of damaged or ruined vehicles will be very extensive – reported as up to as many as 250,000 cars.
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