State insurance agency warns buyers to look out for Imelda flood-damaged cars

State insurance agency warns buyers to look out for Imelda flood-damaged cars
(Source: TELEMUNDO/MEDIABEACH)

(KLTV) - Customers in the market for a used vehicle should be on the lookout for flood-damaged vehicles hitting the resale market, the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) said in a warning to buyers.

Tropical Storm Imelda forced drivers to abandon their vehicles as the storm flooded cities along the coast in September.

Sellers often buy salvage cars at auction and resell them to unsuspecting buyers across the state and nation after flooding events, according to the TDI. But once an engine gets waterlogged, it is almost impossible to ever fix the car.

Here’s how to know if a used car may have been flooded:

Look for water damage. Consumers should look for stains, mildew, rust, and discoloration, as well as dirt or debris under the floor mats and carpet to determine signs of water damage, according to the TDI. Also, flooded cars often have mold or mildew, and give off a musty odor. But be careful: Even if you don’t notice the smell of mildew, beware of a strong smell of cleaner or disinfectant, as it could be an attempt to cover up those odors.

“Take an inspection of the car; notice the smell of the interior if it’s a used car, even if it’s a new car,” said Tony Holyfield, owner of Best Chance Auto in Longview. “What they do is put a lot of Lysol in it to kill the odor. But also look for rust up underneath the car. Look for electrical problems; turn the radio on and off, turn the lights on and off."

Holyfield added that another way to check waterlogged vehicles is to check the oil. Water that’s flooded the engine will mix with motor oil to create what experts call “chocolate milk”, or consistency and color similar to chocolate milk.

Ask to see the title. The title must be changed to a "salvage" or "non-repairable" title when a vehicle is declared a total loss. Ask to see the title as well as a vehicle history report, which will list the status of the title. Consumers could also check the WIN number with the National Insurance Crime Bureau's database, VINCheck, which will show if the vehicle has been stolen or listed as a total loss.

Take it to a mechanic. If possible, TDI recommends asking a mechanic to inspect the vehicle for less obvious signs of flood damage.

“Always get a professional to look at a car if you’re going to purchase a car,” Holyfield added. “If you can’t afford to have someone inspect it, at least get a second pair of eyes on it. Maybe someone in your family knows something about cars. It’s never a bad idea to have a second opinion.”

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