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Cars damaged by hurricanes are on the market. Here’s how to make sure yours is safe

Cars are flooded near the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters from Harvey rise in Houston. Hurricanes Irma in Florida and Harvey in Texas last year left behind a large number of flood-damaged vehicles that are now offered on the used car market.
Cars are flooded near the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters from Harvey rise in Houston. Hurricanes Irma in Florida and Harvey in Texas last year left behind a large number of flood-damaged vehicles that are now offered on the used car market. AP

The effects of a hurricane can be felt long after the winds and the rains die down.

Hurricanes Irma in Florida and Harvey in Texas last year left behind a large number of flood-damaged vehicles that are now appearing with “for sale” signs.

A study published in the Carfax web pages for used vehicles shows there are nearly 500,000 such vehicles on the streets.

Miami reported the second highest number of water-damaged cars with 15,607, Carfax noted. New York heads the list with 17,110, and Miami is followed by Philadelphia with 14,869 and Dallas-Fort Worth with 12,258.

Carfax also estimated that the floods generated by Hurricane Florence on its path through South and North Carolina damaged 107,000 vehicles.

Vehicles that suffer flood damage may have mechanical, electrical and safety problems because the anti-lock brake system may not work properly. Damaged airbags also may fail to deploy in case of accidents.

Humidity and bacteria inside the car may also generate respiratory and other health issues for drivers and passengers.

Carfax offers the following recommendations for detecting water-damaged vehicles:

Close the car windows to check for a musty odor that might be caused by dampness.

Be wary of cars that smell “too nice.” A scent may be used to mask musty odors.

Look for water stains or replaced sections in the upholstery and rugs. Better yet, lift the rugs and look.

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Check the trunk and glove compartment for signs of flooding.

Watch for signs of corrosion on metal parts.

Look under the hood for leaves or debris in suspicious places.

Check the oil. A single drop of water in it is a sign of serious mechanical problems.

Check the air filter for signs that the paper was wet at some point.

Cloudy headlights or instrument gauges can be signs that the vehicle was under water.

When you test drive the car, keep an eye on the electrical system, which can be damaged in a flood.

Take your car to a mechanic for a second opinion. He or she can perform a more detailed inspection for repairs designed to hide water damage.

Use a car dealership that is well established in your community. Reputable dealers will not risk their reputation by selling water-damaged vehicles.

Check the vehicle’s history in Internet pages such as AutoCheck, CARFAX Vehicle History Report or VehicleHistory.com.

Be direct. Ask if the vehicle suffered water damage, and ask the seller to put the answer in writing.

Read the vehicle’s title carefully. If the words “flood” or “salvage” show up, don’t buy it.

Follow Sarah Moreno on Twitter: @SarahMorenoENH

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