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Are you buying a flood damaged car?

By raccars Published

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It's that time of year again when unfortunate British car owners face losing their vehicle to vicious seasonal flooding.

Some 70 per cent of flood damaged cars are deemed to be write-offs by insurers. The other 30 per cent could, at some point, end up on the used car market. Unfortunately the process of selling a car tends to bring out the worst of human nature. Few sellers are honest enough to admit that their car has been drowned, so how can you be sure you aren't buying one of these flood damaged vehicles?

Why you should avoid a flood damaged car?

Sometimes there are some fairly obvious give-aways that you're looking at a flood damaged car. Layers of mould and a musty smell are obvious red flags! Cars can suffer from damage not only when parked up and deluged by rising flood waters, but also if they are driven through deep water, which allows water to enter the air intakes and to be ingested by the engine.

However in some cases owners can disguise the most obvious damage, leaving buyers to discover the real problems further down the line. These can include problems with the exhaust system and catalytic converter; seized wheel bearings and brakes; and faulty starter motors and alternators. Water damage can also affect electronics and electrical systems and may even affect the integrity of airbags, causing them to fail when needed or to deploy unexpectedly.

In order to avoid the inconvenience of an insurance claim, some owners may dry out their vehicles so that they look healthy enough but hide deeper problems which will emerge after the purchase. While you're looking at a second hand car, be aware of how to spot water damage.

Use your nose

If windows are left open the smell of damp is less noticeable. Air fresheners are similarly used to disguise a damp or musty smell. Feel the floor carpets and take a sniff around the footwells. Check the floor of the boot and the wheel wells too for signs of damp. If windows are closed and heavy condensation is present, there must be moisture inside the car.

Start the car up and aim the blowers onto the windscreen on full heat. If this causes the glass to steam up and the air smells, there is water inside the heating system. Check also the airbag warning light. It will usually illuminate as it self-checks when you start up. If, however, the light remains illuminated or doesn't come on at all, there may be a fault with the airbags which could have been caused by an ingress of water into the system.

Check all electrical functions carefully. If the windows, mirrors, sound system or other features aren't working this could be a sign of flood damage.

Take a look at the head and tail light clusters. You may see water pooled within the plastic casing. If you can't see clearly, rock the vehicle gently and if there is water trapped you will see it move. You may also find sand or silt deposits in odd spots within the engine bay or interior corners. There may also be unexpected corrosion in the engine bay.

Remove the oil filler cap and check the underside. A gooey, white deposit indicates emulsified oil, meaning that water has entered the engine. This could be a sign of flood damage or a problem with the head gasket. Either way, walk away.

Written-off cars can be classified into three categories. Categories A and B must be taken off the road as they are dangerous, but category C write-offs can legally be used and sold on, provided that the V5C registration document records the status. Use the above guidelines to check that you aren't buying a category C write-off as a result of flood damage or, for added peace of mind, have a seasoned professional assess the vehicle with an RAC vehicle inspection.

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