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Previously flooded vehicles considered "ticking time bombs"

5,300 currently in use in Maryland
Posted: 6:24 PM, Sep 14, 2017
Updated: 2017-09-14 18:24:55-04

It’s estimated that Hurricane Harvey flooded around half a million vehicles in Texas.

Historically, about half the cars damaged in floods return to the road in some form or another, according to Carfax. And since 2016, there's been a 20 percent increase in flooded cars that are now back in use.

Seeing a car submerged in a watery graveyard is like seeing it at the end of its life. The next and final destination is the scrapyard.

However, that's not always the case. There are those who attempt to give the metal carcasses new life, or at least the appearance of it.

“People who don't have the proper insurance to cover the loss of their car may try to clean it up and resell it quickly to salvage any value. And then there are legal means as well. Auctions will sell those cars disclosing that they're flood damaged but once those cars get out, and they're purchased by someone else, there's no telling where they can end up and in whose hands,” said Christopher Basso, the public relations manager with Carfax.

Carfax showed how easy it can be to make a flood-damaged car look new. A team of mechanics took a car swamped by Hurricane Sandy and in five hours transformed it into something presentable.

“Flooded cars literally rot from the inside out. The water affects the mechanical parts of the car, it shorts out the electrical systems and it even compromises the safety systems of the car like your anti-lock brakes and your airbags. So, these cars are really ticking time bombs, sooner rather than later, any or all of those parts are going to fail putting the passengers of those cars in danger,” Basso said.

And yet, there are more than $325,000 previously flooded vehicles on the road today. Five thousand of which are in Maryland with 2,000 right here in the Baltimore area.

Nick Hill of Nick of Time Automotive saw one in his shop.

“I have one customer that went $3,000-4,000 dollars into a vehicle they had just purchased and they purchased it for the value price of the vehicle and had no idea,” Hill said.

His customer checked the Carfax but there were no red flags.

“We pulled the carpet back and we were able to see where paint lines and water lines were inside of the vehicle and there was actually still moisture in spots where it had just never been able to evaporate out of,” said Hill. 

Carfax can be a great resource but it only works when there's been a report of flood damage and that doesn't always happen, which is why it’s recommended that buyers also get the car inspected by a mechanic.

“If you tell the person you're looking to purchase the car from that you would like to do that before you buy it, and they have any type of hesitation, that kind of tells you what you need to know right there. They shouldn't have anything to hide or any problems with a mechanic looking at it,” said Hill.

And no matter how good the car looks or tempting the price, Hill says a flooded car will never be how it once was.

“You will constantly be finding and chasing issues throughout the life that you have that vehicle until it ultimately ends up in the recycler's yard or in somebody else's hands where it turns into their problem, unfortunately,” said Hill.

Carfax is expecting more flooded vehicles to wash ashore in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

They are now offering free flood checks on their website to help consumers avoid buying flood-damaged cars. If you’d like to check a vehicle, click here .

It's still recommended that you get a used car checked out by a mechanic and to buy from a licensed dealer.

If you have a “Matter for Mallory,” she wants to hear from you. You can email her at Mallory@wmar.com.