Every time we see a bad storm or hurricane hit a different part of the country, flooded vehicles resurface on used car lots. They can be hard to pass up because a lot of times, they're cheap. But sometimes, there's hidden damage inside these cars you may overlook that can cost you big bucks.
Carfax, a company that provides vehicle history reports, estimates as many as 212,000 cars were damaged by Hurricane Ida and those cars are now making their way to different states, including Wisconsin.
"Our data suggests that there are about 3,800 flooded vehicles that are in use right now across the state of Wisconsin, and about half of those are in the Milwaukee area," said Chris Basso, a spokesperson with Carfax.
Basso explains it is legal to sell a flooded car if the damage is disclosed, but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, they're cleaned up. They may already be in someone's driveway, sitting out for sale on a used car lot, or other places buyers are browsing.
"The real danger is for these vehicles being sold through the online classifieds or the ones with a for sale sign on the side of the road," he said.
In some cases, the prices are considerably lower, appealing to customers in a market where car prices during the pandemic have been high.
Before buying a used car, Basso suggests you take the car for a test drive, get a vehicle history report, and have a mechanic inspect it.
Ryan Wilson works for the insurance company SafeAuto. His department is responsible for writing all the damage estimates for vehicles. Wilson says an untrained eye might miss signs showing a vehicle is flooded.
"Sometimes you can find some mud or some leftover dirt from mud in the vents or the center console," Wilson said.
"Moisture in the vehicle, whether it be in the trunk or the carpet on the floor. Also, if you pop open the hood and you look in the engine compartment, sometimes you can see water lines or some kind of residual mud," he added.
A musky odor or rust under the car could also be a result of water damage. If you end up buying a flooded car, getting coverage can be another challenge.
"Your typical insurance policy covers sudden and accidental damages," Wilson said.
That's why doing your research before you spend any money is critical -- Wilson says even those luxury cars may be priced right, but there could be trouble hiding under the hood.
"You would be surprised the number of Lamborghinis and Ferraris and Bentleys that are also flooded."
The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is an online database that gives you background on a car's title, odometer data, and damage history. The fees for each report range between $8 and $12.99.
Carfax also offers a free flood damage report. Click here to learn more.