It is expected that over the next few months, the auto industry may see a major increase in sales. During Hurricane Katrina, approximately 640,000 vehicles were lost or damaged causing new car sales to sky rocket.

A spokesperson from State Farm Insurance Company has advised that over 900 auto-related claims had already been filed with a much higher number expected. This is good news for the auto industry selling new cars. Due to the loss of so many vehicles, there will be many people looking to replace their lost or damaged cars with new cars. This could mean a major increase to the car dealerships, and maybe a boost to the economy.

But what about the people who cannot afford a new car and must buy a used car?

The advice here is to beware and to never buy a car that has been involved in any type of flood. And don’t think because you live in an extremely dry area of the world that you are not at risk to buy a car that was involved in a flood. Unfortunately, these flood cars are purchased for very little money, rebuilt, shipped halfway around the country and sold into the auction circuit. We, the unexpected buyer, then purchase this vehicle either from a dealership or a garage, and before we know it – it is too late. The legal term is “caveat emptor”.

There will be problems with everything: the electrical system, the brakes, the engine, the transmission. And the interior will probably smell moldy on a good day and like a wet dog on a rainy day. Another sign of interior water damage may be that fresh smelling air freshener in the car. That may be possibly being used to mask the stale, moldy odor. No amount of cleaning and flushing will get the last bit of water, mud and corrosion out of the mechanical parts and water, combined with delicate electrical parts such as the computer, stereo, ABS controller, and most of the engine sensors, is never a good combination.

There is big business and a lot of money to be made at the buyer’s expense when it comes to flooded vehicles. Unfortunately, the flood damaged car may run quite well for the first few months but then it starts to breakdown.

Things to look for are water lines in the engine compartment, trunk or doors and rust on the inside of the vehicle like the bolts that fasten the seats to the floor. Check that the carpet does not have moldy/musty odor or that it is not loose or wrinkled and don’t be afraid to look under the spare tire for any debris that should not be underneath an unused tire. Have a mechanic check electrical connections for excessive corrosion and excessive crusty substances in the electrical plugs. Have them also check the oil, power steering fluid and transmission fluid for a milky color, which can be caused after having been mixed with water.

The best way to protect yourself, in addition to a good mechanic’s inspection, is to have a title history run on the vehicle. This can be done by asking the person selling the car (i.e. the dealership, used car lot, local mechanic shop or private seller, for the CARFAX. Flood damage will be reported and will show up in the history report. The history report will also show whether the car has been in any other accidents, and if the vehicle was properly maintained by the previous owner.

If you follow the above steps, you can prevent becoming a very unsatisfied customer and enjoying your new “used” car for years to come.

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