Why a flood damaged vehicle could leave you all washed up

If you're buying a car, make sure it hasn't been patched up after the recent floods, says Paul Kelbie
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The Independent Online

As insurance companies count the cost of the torrential rain and flash floods that recently swept across the country, motorists have been warned that the fallout from the storms is only just beginning.

A problem that has become widespread in the US is now surfacing in the UK as an increasing number of vehicles are appearing on the open market after suffering serious weather-related damage. According to insurance experts, reports of storm damage to British cars look set to hit a six-year high.

In the first three months of this year, the insurance company Admiral received almost three times as many claims for storm-damaged vehicles as it did for the whole of the previous year, and that was before the recent storms. Vehicle safety experts fear that this increase in storm-damaged vehicles will lead to a mirroring of the criminal activity in the US as unscrupulous people attempt to pass off badly repaired or damaged cars as perfect.

"After Hurricane Katrina, flood-damaged cars started appearing back on the US market at twice their usual rate," says Roger Powell, general manager of mycar- check.com, which is already recording an increase in vehicles written off by insurers due to storm damage reappearing on the road. "Such cars may look fine at first glance, but the safety and electronic systems can be compromised. People must be aware that these cars will be hitting the market over the coming months."

Many vehicles that are damaged by floods are repairable, even though insurers may have written them off as uneconomical to fix. However, problems (and danger) arise when repairs aren't carried out properly or the seller wants to hide the damage to get a better price.

Nobody knows yet how many vehicles have been damaged by storms, but insurers are bracing themselves for a large number of claims, which some experts believe will result in higher premiums next year.

"People buying second-hand cars in a flood-affected area should have it assessed by a professional mechanic to ensure there's no damage," says a spokesman for Direct Line Insurance.

According to the Association of British Insurers, drivers who don't have fully comprehensive cover will be worst hit as "third party, fire and theft" policies won't pay out for flood damage. With so many vehicles damaged, and drivers needing to offset losses, vehicle safety experts fear many damaged cars will be sold on to unsuspecting buyers. "Any legacy damage is the new owner's responsibility to repair, and that can be costly."

How to avoid buying a flood-damaged vehicle

* Always check the vehicle's title history as the insurance record may indicate whether it has sustained flood damage.

* Check the interior and the engine compartment carefully for evidence of water and grit.

* Examine underneath any recently shampooed carpet for any water residue or stain marks.

* Look for rust on the inside of the car, especially under the interior carpeting, and check for any sign of fading on the upholstery and door panels.

* Take time to look under the dashboard for any dried mud, mould or a musty odour in the upholstery.

* Examine any screws on the inside of the vehicle, such as around the console, for any sign of rust.

* Look in the engine compartment for any signs of dried mud or grit.

* Examine the electrical wiring system for any evidence of rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.