Thousands of used car buyers could be at risk of buying a flood-damaged car. The insurance industry is currently dealing with 2800 motor claims resulting from December’s Storm Desmond alone, according to the Association of British Insurers. The Christmas and New Year flooding in the north of England and Scotland is likely to increase that number dramatically.
Green Flag head of rescue and motor claims response, Neil Wilson, believes one in seven cars rescued by the company in flooded parts of the country will be an insurance write-off. That means six out of seven cars from flooded areas – thousands – will be put back on the road. And some will undoubtedly be sold as used cars. Here are some simple checks to ensure you don’t buy a flood-damaged car.
Where are you buying the car from?
If you’re buying a car privately, ask for the address on the V5C registration document. You can then check whether this is in an area that has been flooded. However, the car might have been sold to a dealer away from where it was damaged to disguise its history. It’s well worth doing a data check. If it’s been a Category C or D insurance write-off (these can be put back on the road legitimately) it will show up at this stage, despite what the seller is telling you.
Put your nose to work
Cars have an awful lot of fabric in them, some out of sight. Beneath the carpets lies sound deadening material that will soak up water. No matter how well a car has been dried out, there will be nooks and crannies where it could take months to dry fully and it’ll be impossible to disguise the musty smell from the damp material.
What’s does the interior look like?
Knowing how difficult it is to completely dry a car out and get rid of the tell-tale smell, anyone repairing a flood-damaged vehicle properly will strip out the interior and replace it with one bought from a vehicle dismantler (scrap yard). But it’s very had to get the exact original trim without scouring every scrap yard in the country. Check that the sports seats the car now has really were available with that trim level. Also, examine the interior carefully. Does it match the age and mileage of the car, or does it look suspiciously new? And do the carpets match the seats?
Do the windows mist up?
Moisture inside the car will cause the windows of a closed car to steam up. If when you arrive, the car’s windows are open, ask why. Also, set the ventilation system to de-mist the windscreen. If it steams up and doesn’t clear almost instantly, there’s likely to be moisture in the system that could have been caused by being flooded. Check the lights too. These can get water trapped in them so look at the headlights very carefully.
How badly do mechanical components suffer?
Nick Reid, technical expert and head of transformation at Green Flag explained: “Being submerged can have a catastrophic effect on various mechanical components as water penetrates and sets off the corrosive process. It can shorten the life of the exhaust and catalytic converter. And it can have a detrimental effect on wheel bearings, brakes, and engine parts such as the alternator and starter motor.”
What about the electronics of a flood-damaged car?
Nick said: “Under the carpets of modern motor vehicles and in the footwells are some very complicated electronic control units. One of the most significant is the airbag control system and its wiring. Water penetrating this could cause a malfunction, potentially detonating an airbag while you’re driving.”
How does flooding damage an engine?
“Flood water can destroy an engine,” Nick revealed. “An engine works by drawing fuel and air into each cylinder, compressing the mix and then igniting them to release power. The key word here is ‘compressing’. If a vehicle has been submerged the cylinders will almost certainly be full of water. This doesn’t compress. The result is what’s known as ‘hydraulic lock’. Trying to start the engine will at best blow the starter motor, at worst inflict serious mechanical damage.”
How do you tell if an engine has been flooded with water?
Nick explained: “Lift the oil filler cap. If there’s a white mayonnaise-like substance on it, water has got in and mixed with the oil, which you definitely don’t want. It’s so serious that some flood-damaged cars will have had their engines replaced. Check this by looking for the engine number on the engine itself. Then make sure it tallies with the one on the V5C.”
Is the car’s price right?
A flood-damaged car really could be more trouble than it’s worth. And although it may not have any significant damage that’s immediately apparent, the flooding could have shortened the life of expensive components. Check what the car should be worth by entering its registration number on the CAP Automotive valuation tool. If it’s being sold for significantly less than that, it could be to secure a quick sale following flood damage.