...to hit the market.
The recent floods in Queensland and New South Wales affected thousands of vehicles, and experts say many will be cleaned up to hide the damage, and sold around the country before problems start to appear.
Insurance companies have received claims for about 3300 vehicles – including cars, trailers, caravans and motorbikes -- worth about $30 million following the floods, but many other uninsured ones would also have been damaged.
David Scognamiglio, CEO of consumer vehicle research site carhistory.com.au, said there could have been be up to 5000 cars damaged, and those without full insurance claims were the real danger to buyers. “Cars that were uninsured or underinsured will be cleaned up and hit the market again,” Mr Scognamiglio said.
“Those cars become a danger to consumers with the potential to have huge defects in the electrical system – components that control the brakes, doors, nearly everything in the vehicle could be affected. They pose a real threat not only to people’s pockets but to their safety.”
Laws prohibiting the resale of repaired flood write-offs and governing the declaration of flood damage to a vehicle are easily dodged by private sellers – and even dealers may be at risk, warns motoring body, the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland.
“It can take up to six months before you can see signs of rust or corrosion in a water-damaged car, so there’s a reasonable window of opportunity for sellers to pass them on to unwary buyers, including dealers,” RACQ spokesman Steve Spalding said.
He warned that a meticulous cleaning will remove most evidence of recent water damage, and buyers should take extra care with inspections. “An example I can recall after a previous flood was a late model Mercedes for sale that had been cleaned and detailed immaculately. The telltale clue was in the glove box – which they’d overlooked – where a mud tide-mark showed how deep the vehicle had been in water,” he said.
Mr Scognamiglio said research showed the majority of buyers did not research a used car’s previous history. “We know that only 30 per cent of people really do proper checks. So 70 per cent of people in the private market are really putting themselves at risk,” he said.
Both he and Mr Spalding urged buyers over the next six months to carefully check used cars, trailers caravans and motorbikes; looking in depth at both their physical condition and their official history.
Tips to avoid buying a flood-damaged vehicle
Check that the vehicle can be reregistered.
Check for mud, silt or watermarks under seats, behind the dash, inside the glove box, ashtray and other places that may have been overlooked during cleaning.
Look for rusty tools in the tool pouch as this can easily be overlooked during cleaning.
Look for corrosion in the spare wheel and boot wells, and also on unpainted metal components such as dash brackets and seat bases.
Water damaged log books or service records are a giveaway, but will most likely be removed or replaced before sale. If books are missing or their condition appears inconsistent with the rest of the car, question why.
Check the air filter element and inside the air cleaner housing and intake ducting for mud or silt that may indicate water has reached the engine.
Salt water exposure will show as a white, powdery corrosion on alloy components.
Look for green, powdery corrosion in electrical connectors. It may be necessary to carefully separate a connector to check for this.
Mud build up inside the chassis rails on utes and 4WDs or on under body components, such as suspension parts, can indicate flooding or it could suggest use on unsealed roads. You’ll need to make a decision about which one it is.
Damp seats, carpets and floor coverings may be a sign of water damage or simply of cleaning and detailing. Either requires further investigation.
The smell produced by flooding can be difficult to remove from carpets and trims, so be suspicious of any vehicle that has been treated with strong fragrances that could be an attempt to hide the odour.