A Buyer’s Nose Can Tell A Lot About A Vehicle

September 16, 2021

By Terri Jo Neff |

The folks at the Arizona Department of Transportation are reminding folks that if a car deal does not smell right, walk away.

“While the recent Hurricane Ida never came close to the Southwest, the storm can have an impact on Arizonans considering the purchase of a car,” says Doug Pacey of ADOT. “It’s not uncommon for vehicles damaged by flood waters to be shipped hundreds of miles away and placed on the market.”

And that, according to Pacey, is where a buyer’s nose can be of help, because water damage leaves a distinctive odor.

“Prospective buyers can protect themselves by closely inspecting a vehicle before purchasing it,” he explained. “Remember, a flood-damaged car might smell of mildew. If the car doesn’t pass a smell test, walk away.”

There are also other easy steps to take to ensure a vehicle you are interested in has not been submerged in water, what is often referred to as a “washed up” vehicle. One step is to inspect the vehicle’s nooks and crannies.

“Examine the trunk for dirt, silt and mold. Check under the dashboard and other hard-to-reach places as well,” says Pacey. “People trying to rip you off usually don’t clean all of those places.”

In addition, it is important to check all of the vehicle’s electrical and mechanical components.

“Water wreaks havoc on electrical systems, so take a thorough look to see if any of those systems aren’t working quite right,” Pacey recommends. “Also check the engine for signs of rust or even random new parts.”

The last thing to look at if the vehicle has passed the smell test and does not show any obvious signs of water damage in the engine or electrical system is to get under the vehicle.

Pacey said checking the suspension for signs of water damage is just as important. And if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, it’s something a reputable mechanic can help with.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration also warns anyone thinking of buying a hybrid or electric vehicle to ensure the battery has not been standing in water, as the batteries are highly corrosive.

If a salesperson discourages such an inspection, it is another reason to walk away from the deal.

For those who suspect they have unknowingly purchased a water damaged vehicle, whether new or use, information on possible options is available from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office at https://www.azag.gov/consumer/auto. Click on the tab for Problems With Your Transaction, as well as the tab for Arizona’s Lemon Law (if applicable).

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