Hammer Time: The Used Car Flood After Sandy, And How Not To Get Soaked

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

As collateral damage of Super-Sandy, stories are making the rounds of water-logged cars dumped on unsuspecting buyers by criminal dealers. Like many fake pictures posted on Twitter and Facebook, these stories are mostly made up, or pushed by new car interests. The dangers lurk elsewhere: In your neighbor’s driveway, on eBay, in the classifieds. Read this story if you don’t want to become a belated victim of Sandy. Katrina changed the landscape when it came to flood damage vehicles. Most of the 600,000 vehicles in the zone of that hurricane were classified as flood damage by their respective insurance companies. It was law. Pure and simple. The owners of Carfax and Autocheck even went so far as to offer special warnings to buyers on any vehicle with a VIN# that was registered in the region of Katrina’s flooding. The same law applies to Sandy.

The law solved a lot. But it most certainly did not solve all problems.

There are those car owners who are transients and simply find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those cars will never get the voluntary mark of caution unless they contact their insurance company. Among them, along with the general population of a flood damaged area, you will have folks that either don’t have insurance at all or carry the minimal amount.

Flood damage plus liability equals zero payout for many folks who are now involuntarily in the market for a used car.

Some of their vehicles are flooded to the point of no reasonable return. The ones that have been damaged, but are still in running order, are usually either traded in to dealerships of varying types. Or sold to folks who simply don’t know any better.

A lot can be said for the watermarks you can find in carpets that are exposed to sitting water over the course of time. The noxious smells that remain in a car after a flood, and even the absolute destructive nature of all things saltwater to electronics, seals and metals. Although the damage to electronics is often immediate and irreversible, the other two simply work their magic over the course of time.

The damage to those major components along with the braking and steering systems are what will turn a once perfectly good car into a rolling deathtrap.

Everyone imagines someone taking out the carpet and simply power washing their way out of the damage. Even if the damage was apparently low around the car’s beltline, the amount of work needed to replace everything will still be extensive.

In the real world you may be looking at a replaced carpet, a scrubbing and bleaching down of the bare metal, sometimes replaced seats, certain suspension components, brake lines, tire related sensors. sensors, and a few other choice components. Unfortunately, the ones who do this type of work may prioritize their own financial interest over your future well-being.

So for those of you who are looking for a break on a flood damaged car that has seemingly little more than minor cosmetic issues, my advice is to steer clear. Stay far, far away.

Many of the models that are popular in overseas markets, and still in running order, will wind up exported. While a few of those that are perhaps more in lines with purely domestic tastes will remain in the domestic market. A treatise can be written on how to spot flood damage vehicles. 99% of you will simply be better off with the cliff notes version that can be found right here. Along with this should come two big sentences that should repeated like a mantra whenever buying a used car.

“Always get a vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic. Preferably one that specializes in that particular marque.”

If a mechanic sees hundreds of versions of the same vehicle over the course of the year, it will usually be a lot easier for them to identify flood damage related issues than if they saw hundreds of vehicles of varying types.

Familiarity breeds knowledge when it comes to cars. So get any car you want to buy inspected; regardless of whether you suspect flood damage or anything else.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Nova73 Nova73 on Nov 02, 2012

    Here's how to avoid a Sandy flood damaged vehicle. You don't have to check for actual flood damage. Just don't purchase any car having multiple dings on every door and panel, heavily tinted windows, and after-market wheels. In other words, avoid cars with the traditional markers of the NYC metro area. Of course, here is Upstate we don't have to look for visible markers of down state car, we can smell them from far away.

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Nov 04, 2012

    Take off the panels in the trunk-look under the spare. A little non-tool disassembly will reveal grit in places it should not be. A local Caddy dealer once tried to sell me a SRX "but it can't be leased". They claimed it was a model year too old, but the wet trunk and grit under the mats told another story (they'd scam me but not GMAC). Same at a local VW dealer...oddly cheap A6 Wagon in the showroom. Cleanup was almost 100%, but for the grit in the cigarette lighter...not ash, brown grit. A few trunk panels popped off to the horror of the salesman showed that the river grit had not been cleaned out of the parts of the car you can't see. Having said that, and being in the local area, I would never buy a used car that saw NYC use. I'd buy a used car from upstate, or PA, but never NYC use. The roads and conditions are just too brutal.

  • W Conrad Sedans have been fine for me, but I were getting a new car, it would be an SUV. Not only because less sedans available, but I can't see around them in my sedan!
  • Slavuta More hatchbacks
  • ED I don't know what GM is thinking.I have a 2020 one nice vehicle.Got rid of Camaro and was going to buy one.Probably won't buy another GM product.Get rid of all the head honchos at GM.This company is a bunch of cheapskates building junk that no one wants.
  • Lostjr Sedans have been made less practical, with low rooflines and steeply raked A pillars. It makes them harder to get in and out of. Probably harder to put a kid in a child seat. Sedans used to be more family oriented.
  • Bob Funny how Oldsmobile was offering a GPS system to help if you were lost, yet GM as a company was very lost. Not really sure that they are not still lost. They make hideous looking trucks, Cadillac is a crappy Chevy pretending to be fancy. To be honest, I would never step in a GM show room now or ever. Boring, cheap ugly and bad resale why bother. I get enough of GM when i rent on trips from airports. I have to say, does anybody at GM ever drive what everyone else drives? Do they ever then look at what crap they put out in style fit and finish? Come on, for real, do they? Cadillac updated slogan should be " sub standard of the 3rd world", or " almost as good as Tata motors". Enough said.