Thinking of purchasing a used car in the near future?  Read this first!

Be very careful about purchasing a used vehicle in the coming months! Because of storm “Sandy”, there will be a major increase in storm damaged vehicles for sale in our area.  You may be asking “Why?”  Many of the damaged vehicles will be sold at auctions across the country for pennies on the dollar.  The insurance companies sell these vehicles at auction as “totaled” vehicles with no intent of them being put back on the road. 

Unfortunately, there are some that make a living buying these vehicles, cleaning them up and making them run again. Once this happens, they send the vehicles to other states and have them re-titled and licensed.  The vehicles will then be sent to other states in an attempt to make it hard to track the vehicle history. By being unscrupulous, these people hope to make a lot of money. 

So, if you are shopping for a used vehicle, take a look at the following list to help avoid purchasing a vehicle that has been a “flood” damaged vehicle.

  • Run a CARFAX® or AutoCheck®type service on the VIN of the vehicle and look for the following:
    • Owner  history
    • Where the vehicle was previously located
    • Transfer of ownership dates
    • If a used car does not have a Washington State license plate on it, be very cautious and ask or demand to know where the vehicle came from.
    • Check to see if the vehicle has a replacement VIN number on it when you are applying for classic Car loans.  Most replacement Washington VIN’s will be placed on the driver’s side front door jamb. To locate, open the driver’s door and look at the jamb area for a green and silver replacement VIN tag.  This tag usually represents a “re-titled” vehicle and is often done for a vehicle that has been “rebuilt” from a salvage title.
    • Check for signs of water damage in areas where you normally wouldn’t see that type of damage.  For example, in the passenger compartment check items like the seats, carpet and headliner for signs of water stains.  See if any of the interior dome lights have water in them.  Check the outside light housings for having water in them or signs of having had water in them. 
    • Check all fluids for signs of water where water should not be.


  • Engine oil
  •  Transmission fluid
  •  Power steering fluid
  •  Brake fluid
  • See if the battery is new.  This doesn’t necessarily mean the vehicle was a flood car; but keep in mind that the average life expectancy on an Original Equipment (OE) battery is 3-5 years.
  • If the vehicle looks too clean, it probably is!  This is because it went through an extensive cleaning everywhereKeep in mind this is not the norm for most used cars. 
  • Check the glove box and look for any documents. A great example would be an owner’s manual.  We all know what the pages look like in a book after being saturated with water.  If the owner’s manual or other papers in the vehicle look like this…be cautious.  If there isn’t an owner’s manual, ask why?
  • Check the spare tire area.  A lot of times, this area is “missed” when cleaning flood damaged vehicles and there may still be standing water in the spare tire well area.
  • Water and electronics do not get along with each other, so make sure and check all electrical devices in the vehicle for proper operation.  If there are several items that do not work or you have concerns about… be cautious.

We spend a lot of money on our vehicles in this country.  Spend the money and have a vehicle purchase inspection done on the vehicle prior to finalizing the purchase of the vehicle.  A vehicle purchase inspection will not always detect a flood damaged vehicle, however; if taken to a knowledgeable facility,   the odds are in your favor of detecting a flood damaged vehicle prior to purchase. 

I hope this outline helps you in the purchase of a used vehicle that will give you many years of trouble free service. 

If you have any questions or concerns on a vehicle, we can be reached at:

Benchmark Automotive Tire and Service- Kingston




Hockett and Olsen Automotive-Bainbridge Island




Written by Scott A. Carlson-Owner

About the Author

Log in to post a comment.