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How to Avoid Flood-Damaged Cars in Tennessee and Everywhere Else

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Nashville flood car

Nashville flood car

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This weekend's historic rain in Nashville seems like just the latest in a string of catastrophes and calamities--and even if you're not a Music City resident, you should know what happens in the aftermath of disasters like this one when it comes to your next car.

First, the good news. Our colleagues over at Nissan North America report no damage to the company's headquarters in suburban Franklin, Tenn. The massive Nissan factory in Smyrna, to the southeast, was closed for one shift because of the roads nearby, but with the dissipation of the rain, the issue's also washed away.

What becomes of cars affected by the historic Tennessee floods (follow @jimcantore on Twitter for the ALL CAPS version)? They're probably headed for a corner used-car lot near you, unfortunately, and since not every state requires the damage to a flooded car be disclosed, you could end up buying one, inadvertently.

According to vehicle-history provider Carfax, flood-damaged cars can show up years after they've been deluged. More than half a million cars were ruined by the 2005 hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina--and some of those cars are still out there, waiting for you to inherit their myriad drivability and durability problems.

How can you avoid getting soaked by a flood-damaged car? Carfax suggests the following before you buy:

  • Check the trunk, glove compartment, the dashboard and below the seats for signs of water damage such as silt, mud or rust.
  • Examine upholstery and carpeting closely; if it doesn't match the interior or fits loosely, it may have been replaced. Discolored, faded or stained materials could indicate water damage.
  • Turn the ignition key and make sure that accessory and warning lights and gauges come on and work properly. Make sure the airbag and ABS lights come on.
  • Test lights (interior and exterior), windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
  • Flex some of the wires beneath the dashboard. Wet wires will become brittle upon drying and may crack.
  • Take a deep breath and smell for musty odors from mildew.
  • Go to a trusted mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection. Always get vehicles checked BEFORE handing over any money.

Lastly, of course, they'd like you to see a vehicle history report--such as the ones they supply. In our experience, Carfax reports can keep you from buying one of these problem vehicles without full knowledge of what the car's been through, from flooding to salvage-title issues and more.

Our advice? Ask the seller to provide this report for free before you buy a car that doesn't pass the smell tests above.

Post Script: For those who want to see the flooding second-hand, Mashable posted this eloquent HD clip from a videographer. Warning: there's a vivid drowning of an Altima in here, so the squeamish should look away.

[Carfax; video via Mashable]

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