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Car Buying Tips

Beware of Hurricane Damaged Cars Flooding the Market!

Hurricane season is upon us again. This is a great reminder to make sure you thoroughly inspect a used car before you purchase it. You don’t want to be one of the estimated 200,000 unlucky consumers that will purchase a flood car this year.

Katrina alone destroyed more than 600,000 vehicles. Once a flood car is cleaned up, they can be hard to spot. Flood vehicles can have significant mechanical problems, and electrical problems that may not be immediately evident, but will cause ongoing problems for the rest of the car's serviceable life. Mold growing in hard to see places can also cause chronic health problems for you and your family.

Most flood vehicles are declared total losses by the insurance companies and are given a salvage title. These titles (depending on the state) are marked with a coded letter or number, or the words "salvage" or "flood." They are usually sold to junkyards and broken down and sold as parts.

But some flood-damaged vehicles will be repaired, cleaned up and make their way back onto the used-car market. There is no one sure way to detect a flood car, but here are some quick checks that you can do yourself.

Tips to avoiding a flood car:

• Exterior of the vehicle: Lights: Look at the car's headlights and taillights. Do they have water trapped inside or a water line showing on the lens or the reflector? Rust: Look for rustier-than-usual fasteners around the doors. Is there any rust or flaking metal under the vehicle? Spare Tire: Check for mildew around the spare tire in the trunk, and smell for a musty odor.

• Interior of the vehicle: Check the glove box, other storage areas, and underneath the seats for signs of sand, mud, moisture or rust. Upholstery and Carpeting: Check for discolored, faded colors, or stains. If it something doesn’t match or fit properly, it may have been replaced. Bolts under the Seats: Check the bolts beneath the seats for rust. If they look like they have been removed look deeper because to dry the carpets, the seats must be removed. Fuse Box: Check for rust on the inside of the box and corrosion on the fuses. Heater and Air Conditioner: When checking to see if the A/C works, smell for musty odors. Electrical Components: Make sure all the lights work, along with the windshield wipers, cigarette lighter, radio, mirrors, windows and seats! Bend some wires under the dash to see if they crack. Wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.

• Take the car for a test drive to see how it reacts at high speeds.

• Look under the hood: Look all around the engine compartment for corrosion, mud or grit.

• Checking the vehicle's title history: First off ask the seller if the car has been damaged by floodwater. Get the answer in writing on the bill of sale. Ask to see the title of the used car. If the title is not available for inspection, the vehicle may be one to avoid. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped "salvage." You could get a Carfax report and they may alert you to some types of problems, but they can’t guarantee that the vehicle has no hidden problems. That's why it is important to get any used car inspected by a trusted independent mechanic before you buy it.

• If you are feeling pretty confident that you found a good one, make sure you still have the car inspected by a trained, certified mechanic. The money you spend for the inspection could save you thousands of dollars down the road.

“Educated consumers are a used car seller’s worst nightmare.”

Learning more about the vehicle then the seller knows is the secret ingredient to buying a great used car, negotiating a great deal and avoiding a lemon!”

For some more Tips to purchasing A Great Used Car, go to

Amy Mattinat is co-owner of Auto Craftsmen, an Import Sales and Service Shop in Montpelier, Vermont. Amy has had every job in the shop other then mechanic. What she enjoys best is educating the public on preventive car care and on purchasing a great used car. Mattinat is the author of "How To Buy A Great Used car", writes a monthly newsletter on car care, and a monthly magazine column called "Under The Hood" for Vermont Women Magazine. She is a proud member of: The Women's Car Care Council, Women's Automotive Association International and Advancing Women In Automotive Retail Enterprises.

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