Flooded cars showing up on used car lots

Flash flooding in April caused damage to hundreds of cars in Alabama. Now, some of those vehicles are showing up on used car lots. (

{}Every year, storms flood hundreds if not thousands of cars. Many of them are resold to unsuspecting customers. With the recent flooding, ABC 33/40 wanted to know how can potential car buyers avoid being swindled.The April showers destroyed and damaged cars all over Central Alabama. In Pelham, water came to the top of tires even to the windows. Roof tops were barely visibly in Homewood. Insurance companies most likely declared many of these cars total losses and gave the owners salvage titles. That means they cannot be driven or issued a license plate in Alabama. But those cars could still end up on car lots.The cars often get cleaned up even shipped to different parts of the country and sold to unsuspecting customers."I one time bought a vehicle myself that had gone through flooding and didn't know it and started having electric problems," said Dawn Calvert, a general sales manager.Calvert and her car got burned. she now works at driver's way and makes sure her customers get access to a vehicle's detailed history through Carfax. She says every customer should ask for one. It lists maintenance work, like oil and filter changes, and whether the car has been in an accident or flooded."That's important around here with all the flooding we've had," she said.Once potential buyers think they've found the car, they should always do a physical inspection for any signs of possible damage by popping the hood, checking the tires and car for any sign of mud or debris. A mechanic can also help out.ABC 33/40 asked mechanics from two different shops to show what to look for in flooded cars. Lead Driver's Way technician Robert Hafley spends two hours inspecting each used car before it goes on the lot for sale."Around here, people go mud riding. They have muddy driveways, so you'll see some of that. But if a car has been in a flood, you will see mud in places it shouldn't be," he said."Sometimes the mud and water will get up in and lay in these areas and it can't be washed out, he said pointing to the area along the car frame.Christian Brothers shop foreman William Wiedeburg saw cars with electrical problems and bad odors a few years ago. He says they turned out to be flooded cars from the North purchased by a unknowing customer here."You start investigating- there's been wiring harnessed under the carpet that has corroded, electrical items- computers that have gone bad," said Wiedeburg,Water can damage car computers, electric systems, anti-lock brakes and airbags."You can look under the seat to check for mud or water damage, like rusting. If you see a line of mud or if there is mildew or mold in the carpet- sometimes you can feel it, it's a sign of flooding," he said.Calvert can testify- it leaves the new car owner with more than a smell and damage."Once you get burned, you don't want to go back," she said.Mechanics say flooded cars can always get fixed. But legitimate repairs can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. ABC 33/40 also contacted the Alabama Department of Insurance, which cautions against buying a flooded car.{} To legally get the car back on the road, the work must be done by a licensed rebuilder. It must get a rebuilt title and insured. ALDOI says not all insurance companies will provide coverage. Carfax also offers tips to avoid purchasing cars with water damage. Check the trunk, glove compartment, dashboard and below the seats for signs of damage. Examine carpeting and upholstery closely to make sure it matches, isn't discolored or stained, and fits tightly. Make sure the accessory and warning lights work. Bend some wires beneath the dashboard. Water can make them brittle. Also check for a musty order. Ask for a pre-purchase inspection. Finally, purchase a vehicle history report. One can be purchased at for 39.99.{}