autos

Give used cars the ‘sniff’ test

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The effects of a hurricane can be felt long after the winds and the rains die down.

Hurricanes Irma in Florida and Harvey in Texas last year left behind a large number of flood-damaged vehicles that are now appearing with “for sale” signs. A study published in the Carfax web pages for used vehicles shows there are nearly 500,000 such vehicles on the streets. Carfax also estimated that the floods generated by Hurricane Florence on its path through South and North Carolina damaged 107,000 vehicles.

Flood-damaged vehicles may have mechanical, electrical and safety problems because their anti-lock brake systems may not work properly. Damaged air bags may not deploy. Humidity and bacteria inside the car may also generate respiratory and other health issues for drivers and passengers.

Carfax offers the following recommendations for detecting water-damaged vehicles:

Close the car windows to check for a musty odor that might be caused by dampness.

Be wary of cars that smell “too nice.” A scent may be used to mask musty odors.

Look for water stains or replaced sections in the upholstery and rugs. Better yet, lift the rugs and look.

Check the trunk and glove compartment for signs of flooding.

Watch for signs of corrosion on metal parts.

Look under the hood for leaves or debris in suspicious places.

Check the oil. A single drop of water in it is a sign of serious mechanical problems.

Check the air filter for signs that the paper was wet at some point.

Cloudy headlights or instrument gauges can be signs the vehicle was under water.

When you test drive the car, keep an eye on the electrical system, which can be damaged in a flood.

Take the car to a mechanic for a second opinion. Mechanics can perform more detailed inspections for repairs designed to hide water damage.

Use a car dealership that is well established in your community. Such dealers will not risk their reputations by selling water-damaged vehicles.

Check the vehicle’s history on websites such as AutoCheck, Carfax Vehicle History Report or VehicleHistory.com.

Be direct. Ask if the vehicle was damaged by water, and ask the seller to put the answer in writing.

Read the vehicle’s title carefully. If the words “flood” or “salvage” shows up, don’t buy it.

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