How to avoid buying flooded vehicles

MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - More than a half million cars were damaged by Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago. That number is expected to be much greater for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Industry analysts estimate that about half of all flooded cars are resold. It's not illegal to buy nor sale one of these vehicles as long as all parties involved are aware that it's been flooded.

"I check cars before I buy one," says "David Dearman of Meridian. "I just check the under it to make sure that it's not leaking oil or anything like that."

Johnny Naylor says those things are good to do, but not all that needs to be done. As the floor manager at the Johnson Dodge Dealership in Meridian, Naylor says one of the first steps should be to get a Carfax report on the vehicle.

"Carfax will tell you if these have been in an accident," says Naylor. "If they've had flood damage, fire damage or what have you."

After that he says it's important to do a front to back survey of the vehicle.

"Like the bolts and screws," says Naylor, "when they've been replaced, they'll be rusted out a little bit. You'll see damage in the engine block down in the parts that they can't get to to re-grease or moisturize. The water will get in the trunk and it'll get down inside the carpet area. You'll have to lift back the carpet and see the problem. You'll see in there all of your bolts and screws and the body of the vehicle, and it will rust out and it will show you that the car has been kind of covered up from moisture, mold, mildew and what have you."

To determine if a car for sale has been flooded officials say the bottom line is that the nose knows. In fact, they say you can always tell by the smell.

"Your senses your nose, your sight. Use your nose to smell. If it smells like mildew, leave it alone," says George Dearman, who has worked on cars at his Meridian home for more than 40 years.

"That water goes deep inside the seats, "says Naylor, "and you can dry it out, but it'll still smell that musty smell.'

Aside from the smell, Naylor says a bigger concern about buying a flooded car involves safety.

"You can get your electronics. You can get your wiring shorted out. You could get your fuses shorted out, and you could have issues with airbags and with your anti-lock brakes."

He says one of the best ways to try to avoid buying a flooded car is to always get a second opinion.

"Ask your uncle, your best friend or a mechanic, 'Can you look at this? Tell me what you think,' and buyer beware!"

According to early estimates, about 500,000 cars may have been destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.