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Hurricane Sandy Cars Could Be Used for Parts

That Poses Problems for Used Car Buyers Who May Not Notice

By

Hurricane Sandy Taxis

Flooded taxis in Hoboken, NJ, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which struck in October 2012.

Photo (c) Getty Images

There's an interesting occurrence taking place in the wake of flooded and damaged used cars in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The damaged and flooded used cars being sold for scrap and parts.

The damaged cars being sold for scrap isn't a problem, per se, and is probably ultimately a good thing for the used car market because it means there is no danger of those particular used cars being sold on the market through various nefarious means.

The bigger problem is these salvaged used cars being sold for parts. What that means is a salvage business will buy the parts and put them into other used cars. That's a concern because you could end up buying a used car that is made up of parts from a salvage vehicle.

Why is this a concern to the average used car buyer? You're buying a used car with faulty parts but you'll have no way of knowing there are bad parts on the used car until sometime down the road when it's too late to coup your investment.

The Hurricane Sandy damaged used cars being sold for parts are going to be sold for little money. Take for example that fleet of taxis in Hoboken, N.J. The image has become known worldwide because it demonstrated how quickly hundreds of vehicles could literally be washed out.

Now, frankly, the odds of you buying a used taxi are pretty slim (it's one used car I recommend not buying). However, you might buy a used Chevrolet Impala or Ford Crown Victoria. Even Ford Transit Connects have proven popular as taxis.

So, what could happen is a salvage company picks up all those flood-damaged used cars and takes the parts off them and simply sells them for installation on other used vehicles. The parts will probably work fine - at first - but they won't have a sustainable life. They will fail more quickly.

A sum of flooded parts could be applied to a used car without a flood salvage title and the prospective owner is none for the wiser - nor possibly is the person doing the independent pre-purchase inspection. After all, he or she will be looking for telltale signs of flood damage.

Among the signs of water damage in a used car are:

  • Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate, and to look for signs of water.
  • Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
  • Also, flex some wires under the dash to see if they bend or crack, since wet wires become brittle upon drying and can crack or fail at any time.
  • Check the trunk, glove compartment, and beneath the seats and dash for signs of mud, rust or water damage.
  • If the car's history seems suspicious, ask the dealer or individual directly if the car has been damaged by flood water.

Ready for the bad news? Only one of those tips is possibly going to help you if you buy a used car with flood-damaged parts. It's the tip on flexing the wires under the dash. That could happen fairly soon after a faulty part has been installed on a different used vehicle.

The most troubling item is going to be salvaged airbags. Those are what could be sold mostly from salvaged used cars. There's no way you're going to know salvaged air bags have been installed until they deploy prematurely or don't deploy at all. While it sounds unthinkable, unscrupulous auto parts dealers will sell them - not with the intent that they fail - with the knowledge there is a good chance they may not work properly when needed.

It's really going to be the used car's electronics that are going to be most troublesome, though. Salvage operators will take the parts they can that work and install them or sell them. However, rest assured that they will have shortened life expectancy.

Also, there's no telling where these parts could end up once salvaged from Hurricane Sandy damaged vehicles. They could easily be shipped anywhere in the country.

Your only protection is going to be buying a certified pre-owned vehicle. Your second option would be to buy only from owners who can provide complete maintenance records for their vehicles. Look to see where the work was done. Most dealerships and national chains aren't going to buy black-market parts.

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