Bad floods damage a lot of cars, and then some used car sellers want to sell those damaged cars to unsuspecting customers without disclosing the damage. This happened after Katrina (go, for instance, go here and here). Holly Petreaus, the head of Servicemember Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has posted this warning about used car puchases in the wake of Sandy. Here are some of Petraeus's tips:
See: if there are any high-water or mud marks on the
engine, the wheel wells, the trunk or even the glove box. Get a
flashlight and take a look in those hard-to-reach places that might not
have been cleaned. Lift up the carpet and look underneath for mud, rust
Smell: the upholstery and the carpeting. Do they smell funky? Also, turn on the heat and see if there’s an electric/burning smell that might come from damaged wires. And turn on the AC and see if you get a blast of mildew-scented air.
Feel: the wires under the dashboard and in the engine (obviously when the car is turned off!). Do they feel brittle? That may be the result of immersion in water.
Listen: to the sound system/radio. If it sounds bad or isn’t working at all, that could be a sign of water damage. Ask why it’s not working.
Ask: the seller outright if the car was ever in a flood. While they may not have volunteered the information, they may be reluctant to lie when asked directly.
Consider: buying a vehicle history report that should tell you if the car’s been in a flood or issued a salvage title.