Buyer beware: Detroit popular destination for vehicles damaged by flood water

'I expect to see a bunch of them up here in the next few months'
Posted at 3:13 PM, Oct 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-03 18:55:28-04

(WXYZ) — Detroit is a big destination for cars that have been damaged by flood water. Recent flooding in places like Florida mean Detroit drivers could soon be at increased risk.

Zack Glazier is a mechanic and the owner of Alpha Auto in Berkley.

“I don’t know how it happens, I don’t know how it doesn’t get caught. But it does happen and every once in a while, cars slip through and we end up catching them on used vehicle inspections,” said Glazier.

Detroit is actually the 8th most common place for these flood-damaged vehicles to go to — and Glazier isn't surprised.

“I expect to see a bunch of them up here in the next few months,” said Glazier.

Emilie Voss is a spokesperson with CARFAX, she says flood damaged vehicles are more common than we think.

“CARFAX estimates there’s about 400,000 vehicles on the road nationwide that have some sort of water-logged history,” said Voss.

So how are they ending up here?

“These conmen are getting very savvy. They are moving these vehicles to places where buyers are maybe a little more unsuspecting. They’re not thinking about flood-damaged cars,” said Voss.

Places like Michigan.

“When we look at Detroit and the Detroit Metropolitan Area specifically, it’s actually 8th in the nation when we compare it to other metropolitan areas for the number of flood damaged vehicles on the road. We estimate currently 7,700 flood damaged vehicles on the road,” said Voss.

Teresa Murray is a consumer watchdog with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “There are unfortunately unethical people that will go to great lengths to clean up a car. And you have to assume that any car you see for sale out there and it has anything that kind of tips you off, that it could be a problem. If you’re in doubt, just move on,” said Murray.

She says everyone should look up a cars history by using its Vehicle Identification Number or VIN before buying through CARFAX or the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Murray says floods just ruin everything they touch. “Anything mechanical, bad news. Anything metal, bad news. Anything carpet, fabric, bad news,” she said.

Voss tells 7 Action News people are especially susceptible right now because of low inventory and rising prices in the used car market.

“We hear too many stories of people that maybe just want to get the deal done but really you need to check that CARFAX report, look at the vehicle history and also take it to a mechanic,” she said.

That’s where Zach Glazier comes in. “There’s going to be things that we can see, things that we know to look for, tell-tale signs of a flooded vehicle,” he said.

Among the things he looks for: wetness under the floor mats, musty smell, and water in the spare tire wheel well.

He noted the underside of the vehicle and the engine might not be the expected indicators when it comes to water damage.

"It’s also an easily detailed area of the car,” he said.