If you don’t know your insurance company, call 888-379-9531 or visit www.floodsmart.gov and they can pull it up with your name and zip code. In heavily damaged areas, contact www.fema.gov, 800-621-3362 for government assistance.

Water Damage Repair. Don’t try to start the car. If there’s water in the engine, transmission, or fuel system, you’ll just compound the damage. Disconnect the battery ground strap first.

Clean out as much liquid and mud as you can and dry out your car as soon as possible. Assess the damage; if water got into the interior and mechanical systems, that can be dried out or cleaned with a lot of labor, but the electrical systems usually cannot. For the seats and carpet, use a carpet cleaner or a wet-dry vacuum to bring up the water, then use a towel to dry as much as possible. Put down baking soda after the carpet is dry to remove odors.

Signs of Flood Damage. If recent history is any indication, a number of seriously flood-damaged vehicles will wind up on used-car lots and sold to unsuspecting consumers.

To protect yourself from buying a flood victim, a rebuilt wreck, a rebuilt stolen vehicle, or a salvage vehicle, make sure you have a pre-purchase vehicle inspection done by a trusted repair shop and conduct a title history report through a reputable company such as CARFAX. Flood damage information is reported to CARFAX from all 50 state DMVs and, as a service to consumers everywhere, is available for free at www.carfax.com/flood.

Following these guidelines should help steer you away from a potential flood victim or any other vehicle fraud: Water or condensation in the headlights or taillights could be a tip-off to flood-related problems. A musty odor in the vehicle may be from moldy carpeting or padding. If possible, pull up the carpeting to see how far water may have risen in the vehicle, and also if any moisture remains. Check for mud in the seat belt tracks or seat belt tensions; water in the spare-tire well; a sagging headliner, particularly on a late-model vehicle; and corrosion in the vehicle’s undercarriage, such as on brake lines or around the fuel tank.


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