Flooded-out cars from Hurricane Ian washing up in Utah. Here’s how to avoid buying a soggy lemon.

Oct 20, 2022, 6:00 PM
Tropical Storm Ian...
A Publix store in the Metrowest was nearly sold out of water on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Orlando, Florida, as residents ready themselves ahead of Tropical Storm Ian, which is expected to make landfall in the state as a hurricane. (Cristobal Reyes/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
(Cristobal Reyes/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — Cars and trucks flooded by Hurricane Ian may soon be flooding the streets of Utah instead of going straight to the junkyard.

KSL investigative reporter Matt Gephardt joins KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Dujanovic to explain more about what he found out about these flooded cars.

Debbie Dujanovic asked if there was a possibility these flooded-out cars could be coming to used-car lots across Utah.

“It’s not only a possibility, it’s almost a guarantee,” Gephardt said. “This happens every time we see these major weather events. One of the reasons that Utah’s a target is because we’re not particularly a flood zone here”.

Because potential used-car buyers are not necessarily thinking about flood damage, that’s why these Florida vehicles caught in a hurricane are shipped to Oregon, Washington and Utah — places that don’t generally see high water, Gephardt said.

Seller must say car is damaged . . . or not

“If we buy it from, say a dealer, do they have to fess up and tell you that this bad boy was underwater?” Dave asked.

If the damaged vehicle is processed through the owner’s insurance policy, it is marked as having sustained flood damage, Gephardt said.

“If your car has been through a flood, and you go through the insurance department or whatever, then it gets a big fat X on there,” Gephardt said. “But you know, over the years, I’ve reported on ways to get that X removed, erroneously.”

“Montana was kind of a classic state for where people would take these cars, and they could buy, sell to a buddy and the next thing you know, somehow that X got removed,” Gephardt said.

If the owner doesn’t process the damaged vehicle through an insurance policy, then it doesn’t necessarily have that X or salvage title, he said.

What to look for in a car damaged in an event like Hurricane Ian

Dujanovic asked what are the telltale signs to look for when spotting a flood-damaged vehicle.

Looking under the hood of the vehicle for flood damage is not likely to be productive because that is the easiest area to remove signs of flood damage, Gephardt said.

“You can get in there with a power washer or a couple of new hoses or what have you and you can really disguise it,” he said.

Look in the trunk for flood damage, Gephardt said a mechanic told him years ago. Look for rust around the wheel of the spare tire.

“If there’s water that’s come up to the level of where the spare tire is,” Gephardt said, “that’s probably a dead giveaway.”

Progressive Insurance recommends:

  • Unusual odors: The interior of a flooded car will often smell musty or moldy due to prolonged exposure to water.
  • Discolored interior: Large stains on the carpet or upholstery of the vehicle could indicate standing water
  • Sand or dirt in unusual areas: Floodwater also brings sand and dirt into the vehicle that can be hard to clean out.
  • Moisture: Moisture beads or fogging in the interior or exterior lights are a warning sign of possible flood damage.

Research vehicle history and hire a mechanic

“If you were out shopping for a car, fearing that a Hurricane Ian damaged car had made its way to Utah, what would you be looking for?”

First thing to do is research the vehicle’s history through services such as Carfax, Gephardt said and strongly recommends.

“I can’t tell how many times I’ve done a story where somebody didn’t do it [a vehicle history] and then they think the car is worth 10 grand [$10,000] and all of a sudden it’s worth only two because it was actually in a big crash,” he said.

The second thing is take the vehicle to a mechanic or a mechanic to the vehicle.

“People are desperate, right? They’re going to these car lots or  . . . they see these deals and they just really, really want this car and they don’t want to lose them. Some people have been trying to find a car for months. You can’t succumb to that pressure,” he advised. 

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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Flooded-out cars from Hurricane Ian washing up in Utah. Here’s how to avoid buying a soggy lemon.