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Here's how to avoid buying a water-damaged car

2017-05-05 08:11

GIVE THAT CAR A GOOD CHECK: Water damaged vehicles can cause a lot more havoc that you can imagine. Image: iStock

Cape Town - While water is much needed across drought-struck South Africa, one place where it’s definitely unwelcome is inside your car.

Heavy rain caused by storms or floods can inflict significant damage on all types of vehicles, much of which isn’t immediately apparent to second-hand buyers.

Water damage can not only leave car interiors smelling quite unpleasant, but it can also compromise a vehicle’s airbags, brakes, starter motors and electrical systems – something that can have catastrophic ramifications. 

READ: Buying a used car in SA - 5 tips to get the best deal

And while water damage isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, it can have potentially catastrophic ramifications, and as such, it’s important to have a clear understanding of its extent before signing on the dotted line. By arming yourself with the correct information ahead of time, you can avoid making a potentially fatal mistake. 

So how do you spot the subtle hints of severe water damage?

Here are a few key things to consider before buying that ‘too good to be true’ second-hand car: Information by MiWay

1. Vehicle history

It’s important to ask for a full vehicle history check, which will quickly reveal whether the car has actually been written-off due to flood damage. Also make sure to question the owner thoroughly regarding any water damage, as it’s potentially something they hadn’t considered when putting the vehicle up for sale.

2. Flick your lights

While it’s relatively easy to hide the effects of flood damage on a car’s interior, it’s much more difficult to mask its impact on the electrical systems, which will show clear signs of suffering in light of any water damage.

First, check the car’s lights, which may still show a visible water line that gives away flooding, before moving onto electronically operated systems like windows, to ensure they work as they should.

Much can also be revealed by testing the heating system, which will often create excess condensation in the event of trapped water. So if the windows start fogging up, it’s time to start asking those tough questions.

READ: DIY car maintenance in 5 easy steps

3. Pop the bonnet

Many of a vehicle’s secrets are hidden under its bonnet so make sure to have a thorough look for any rust or corrosion that might indicate the car has been compromised. Excess rust elsewhere on the vehicle – particularly if it isn’t old – is also a key giveaway, so give the entire car a thorough once-over, and if you’re unsure of anything, consult a mechanic to advise you further. 

4. Check for anything loose

If any parts of the car you’d expect to be present aren’t in their usual spots, it could be a sign that it’s undergone something other than routine maintenance. If the seat mounting screws have gone amiss, this could be an indication that seats have been removed to dry out carpets, while an absence of rubber drain plugs under the car is a sure sign of floodwater drainage. If you spot any of these red flags, proceed with caution.

5. Sniff and touch

It might seem like obvious advice, but a simple check of the car’s interiors will likely reveal signs of water damage, albeit subtle. While upholstery can be revived to a certain extent, there will still be remnants of damp on the carpets and seats, so make sure to check for any soggy spots or mysterious musty smells that might suggest your potential purchase might be unwise.

Remember, if you do discover flood damage, it’s important to consult a mechanic before making any purchase decisions and to demand proof of necessary work done to repair the car. And while flood damage needn’t always be a deal breaker, it’s important to learn to identify the warning signs and to walk away if you spot too many.

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