How to avoid buying a hurricane-damaged car

PHOTO: Experts are warning of a potential rise in flood-damaged vehicles hitting the market after Hurricane Harvey.PlayABC News
WATCH Millions of cars and trucks were soaked in flood waters after the storm

The deluge of floodwaters from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that recently inundated parts of Texas and Florida did not spare cars, and now experts are warning of a potential rise in flood-damaged vehicles, full of hidden dangers, hitting the market.

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"This could be an unprecedented year for the number of flood cars that are damaged, as well as could be cleaned up, and put back on the road," Christopher Basso, a spokesperson for Carfax, a vehicle-history provider, told ABC News.

Basso said that even before these recent monster storms, there had been a 20-percent increase in so-called "flood cars" hitting the roads again.

Harvey and Irma may have flooded an estimated half-a-million to one million cars, according to the firm Cox Automotive.

Basso emphasized that cars that have been previously flooded can potentially hold many hidden dangers.

"It's like putting a computer into a bathtub," Basso said. "It’s really impossible to tell when it’s going to break those systems down, but sooner or later the mechanical, the electrical, and the safety systems could be compromised which puts you and your family in danger."

Some car owners may try to hide the signs of flood damage to their car before trying to resell them. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Carfax showed ABC News how in just five hours they could give a makeover to a so-called flood car and make it look presentable, outwardly hiding signs of the damage.

Experts advised that before buying a used car to get a full vehicle history report on the vehicle and take it to a mechanic who can look at it closely for hidden signs of trouble.

"Flooded cars can look great they can run perfectly for the short term but the long term and probably sooner than later those cars are going to break down because they are literally rotting from the inside out," Basso said.

The National Automobile Dealers Association posted a list of ten inspection tips to detect flood-damaged vehicles on their website, which includes among other things, to check for rust on screws in the console and other areas where water would not normally reach unless the vehicle was submerged, check under the dash for dried mud and residue, and inspect electrical wiring for rusted components or suspicious corrosion. See the full list of tips from NADA below.

1. Check a vehicle's title history using the National Insurance Crime Bureau's VinCheck, the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or a commercially available vehicle history report service, such as Experian or Carfax, etc. Reports may state whether a vehicle has been flood damaged.

2. Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion.

3. Check for recently shampooed carpeting.

4. Look under the carpeting for water residue or stain marks from evaporated water not related to air-conditioning pan leaks.

5. Inspect for interior rust and under the carpeting, and inspect upholstery and door panels for evidence of fading.

6. Check under the dash for dried mud and residue, and note any mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk.

7. Check for rust on screws in the console and in other areas water would normally not reach unless the vehicle was submerged.

8. Look for mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.

9. Inspect electrical wiring for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.

10. Inspect other components for rust or flaking metal not normally found in late model vehicles.

Editor's Note: This article incorrectly said ABC News worked with Carmax. It has been updated to read Carfax.

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