NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Online company Carfax tracks the history of vehicles and reports as many as 9,000 cars that once flooded are back on the road in Louisiana or in someone's driveway. With recent historic floods across South Louisiana, there's likely many more to come. The FOX 8 Defenders track down what you should know if you're shopping for a used car.
A video on Carfax's website demonstrates how all it takes is just a few hours and a couple hundred bucks for a flood-damaged car to get cleaned up and look like any other car.
"The electrical, the mechanical, even the safety systems can be compromised," Carfax PR manager Chris Basso said. "It may take a little time, but sooner than you expect, one of those systems or all of them are going to fail, and oftentimes it happens without warning, which could cause catastrophic failure if you're driving that car when it happens," he said.
Basso says no matter how well the car is cleaned up or parts are replaced, he recommends you avoid a flood damaged car. There are several ways to do that, including taking it for a test drive and getting a mechanic to thoroughly inspect it. Also, Basso suggests you research the vehicle's history.
With a VIN, a vehicle identification number, or a license plate, Basso says you can do that for free through www.carfax.com/flood. We looked at the history of a 2006 Nissan Sentra through Carfax. The report told us, the car had two owners who had driven the car 111,000 miles. In a red font, an alert detailed severe problems reported by a state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) as recent as July 2016. It also revealed a flooded and salvage branding on the car's title.
"We work with state, federal and local organizations.. insurance companies, to make sure that those vehicles that were under water in a flood, are processed and branded and that information is reported to Carfax so it's made available to people," Basso said.
Still, he says an estimated 9,000 flood damaged cars are on the road in Louisiana. "There are con-men that will remove evidence of flood damage or other types of branded titles from the car's actual paperwork, but if that information is reported by a state Department of Motor Vehicles, it stays on the Carfax report forever," Basso explained.
He suggests consumers do the following:
- Inspect the car's exterior
- Check the head and tail lights for moisture
- Look under the hood
"Check the fluids and especially the oil dipstick. If there's water, or the dipstick is white, that means water has gotten into the oil drum or even the engine," Basso said.
Experts also suggest you really focus on the vehicle's interior. Look at the metal parts of your vehicle such as the seat rails, seat belt clasps, nuts and bolts and check under the dashboard for wires that may be brittle or cracking.
If someone has tried to mask a musty, moldy smell with a deodorizer, Basso says you should be able to tell. Just roll up your windows and crank the A/C.
Check under the carpet mats and look for stains, and pop the trunk to look for rust or standing water in the spare tire.
The FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women also field consumer complaints at 1-877-670-6397 or you can fill out an online complaint form.