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Flood-damaged cars are hitting the used car market. Here's how to avoid buying one

Torrential rain and flooding across the country caused by hurricanes and tropical storms have damaged thousands of cars and buying one could lead to safety issues.

TAMPA, Fla. — We're in the midst of hurricane season right now, with more storms brewing in our oceans. Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm and brought devastating rain and flooding to the Northeast. 

The flooding caused by Hurricane Ida damaged thousands of cars, some of them totally submerged and swept miles away from where they were parked.

Some of those cars may actually be hitting the used car market soon as the auto industry continues to deal with pandemic-related shortages.

So if you're in the market for a used car, how do you make sure you're not buying one that has flood-related damage?

"The risk of buying a flood-damaged car is pretty significant because virtually any modern car is impacted by many electronic systems. Water and electronics don't mix well," said Brian Moody, the executive editor of Autotrader.  

He says the risks of buying a car with water damage can be dangerous.

"You may be able to live with a radio that doesn't work but that could be a sign of more serious issues that could come later. We're talking about things like safety systems, anti-lock brakes, the air conditioner or heater. Is there mold or mildew growing in there?" said Moody. 

He suggests avoiding cars with electrical issues.

You should also check for signs of flood damage. "Look under the carpets, so pull the floor mats back and stick your hand under there. If it feels wet or damp that's not right and make sure you do the same exact thing for the trunk," said Moody.

Also, open up the hood and check underneath. Is there sand, silt or mud? That could be a sign that car was submerged in flood water.

Another easy telltale sign to pay attention to is the smell. Does the car smell musty or damp? When you were shown the car, was it parked with all the windows down to alleviate the smell? If the windows are fogging up from the inside, that may be another sign the car was affected by flooding or heavy rains.

You should also check the vehicle's history. You can purchase a report of the car's past, including states where it's been registered which can help you determine if the vehicle was in an area affected by flooding. You can also check to see if a flood claim has been issued on the car.

Look for rust, especially underneath the car and in places like under the seats, where bolts and screws hold it into place.

"As always, if the price is just too good to be true, it probably is," said Moody.