AAA: Don't get soaked on a flood-damaged car

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In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, AAA is warning consumers about an anticipated deluge in flood-damaged vehicles.

As private owners, auto dealers and vehicle auction managers on the East Coast try to salvage or restore vehicles damaged in the storm, the auto agency warns that damaged vehicles may surface for resale and make their way through the marketplace for up to a year after a major flood. Because of the relatively short time span between when they’re damaged and when they’re sold, vehicles often slip through national databases and aren’t identified as flood-damaged.

“In addition to the obvious damage done to upholstery and carpeting, flood water is a corrosive and abrasive mixture of water and dirt that forces its way into every seam and crevice of an automobile,” said John Milbrath, AAA Washington’s vice president of Member Services, in an announcement. “Most vulnerable are the engine, transmission and other components of the drive train. Unless these vital parts are completely restored, contaminants from the flood water will cause premature wear and shorten the life of the vehicle.”

Used-car buyers should be aware that vehicles damaged may be put up for sale in the near future. AAA recommends used-car buyers always have a prospective vehicle inspected by a qualified automotive technician and check its title history to help determine whether it sustained flood damage among other problems.

Tips for spotting a flood-damaged vehicle: Use your sense of smell to identify damp or musty odors; notice whether the windows are fogged or the carpet or upholstery has been replaced or recently shampooed, pull it back to look for mud, dirt or signs of water stains; look for signs of mud and dirt on the underside of the dashboard; look under the vehicle for corrosion; open all doors, hood and trunk to inspect for corrosion, mud and dirt or discoloration on the door frames, hinges and under the weather stripping; check all warning lights, window motors and electrical components to ensure they’re working properly; get a CARFAX vehicle history report; have the vehicle inspected by a quality repair facility before purchasing.

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