Could you spot a flood-damaged car from Houston?

WCPOPublished: November 13, 2017
Published: November 13, 2017

Tens of thousands of cars, pickups and SUVs were flooded in Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area this summer, and most of them are now being sold as junk, with "salvage" titles indicating they were severely damaged and are usable just for parts. But not all of them. Chris Basso of CARFAX says historically, whenever there has been major flooding, several thousand cars still slip through the system. They're dried out, cleaned up and resold as top quality used cars. Owners only find out months later that they bought a flooded out rust bucket that is now dangerous to drive ... if it still runs at all. "You can't judge a book by its cover," Basso said. "Flooded cars literally rot from the inside out, but cosmetically they can look like any other used car on the road." To prove his point, Basso and CARFAX agreed to set up a Houston flood car test for 9 On Your Side, outside Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield, Ohio. With the help of the Automotive Connection in Fairfield, we lined up 3 nearly identical used Ford Focuses in the parking lot. All three looked shiny and ready to be sold. Only problem: One had been flooded up to the dashboard for 48 hours. "We got a flood car from Hurricane Harvey that we cleaned up," Basso said. "We put it against two other cars that we took off the street to see if people could pick out the one that’s been flooded." Shoppers take the test So how tough is it for the average person to spot a flood damaged car? "The majority of consumers don't know what to look for and haven't done the proper research," Basso said. Shopper Gary Turner was the first to give it a try. He checked all three cars carefully, inside and out and under the hood. "I don't think this one was in the flood," he said, looking a the white car nearest the store entrance. "I would say this one," he finally said. "I'm guessing red." But he guessed wrong. The white car he would have bought turned out to be the flood-damaged car. Conny Listerman and her daughter, Brianna, spent even more time looking over the cars. Conny didn't mind stooping down and inspecting the undercarriage of each one. At one point the two women suspected one car of feeling a bit damp and mildewy. "It just felt a little damper to me," Conny said, but she couldn't tell if it was from flooding or rain. In the end, Brianna chose the white car near the store entrance, based on its slight mildewy (and air freshener) smell.Her mom chose the red one. She was wrong.

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