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Buyer beware: All those cars damaged in California's floods could be coming to a dealer near you

Daniel Miller, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

LOS ANGELES — It's the smell that'll give it away.

"You had better get your face close to carpet," urged Ivan Drury of Edmunds, the automotive information service.

Now take a whiff.

"That gross, musty smell," said Drury, "that's a big red flag."

It means the vehicle most probably has been in a flood. Soon, these may be the perils of shopping for a used car in California.

That's because hundreds, if not thousands, of vehicles were inundated during the series of rainstorms that ripped through much of the state in January. They generated the sort of flooding that can wreak havoc on automobiles — think: rusty floorboards, water-logged electronics and inoperable engines.


In the days and weeks ahead, a complex ecosystem of insurance companies, auction houses, car dealers and others will process these soggy automotive casualties. Many will eventually wind up for sale again. And at least some of those rides will be risky buys.

Kenneth Potiker, owner of Riteway Auto Dismantlers, knows what advice he'd give to people considering the purchase of such a vehicle.

"I would tell them not to buy a car like that — that would be the best advice," said Potiker, whose San Bernardino company sells used auto parts. "If it floods inside a car, water damage is one of the worst types of damage."

Many flooded vehicles will be totaled by insurance companies — this is generally done when the cost of the necessary repair work is equal to or more than the value of the vehicle. These cars will be retitled via the California Department of Motor Vehicles with "salvage," or "junk" designations, which alert consumers to their past damage or other issues. Then, a large number will be unloaded at auctions conducted by companies such as Copart and Insurance Auto Auctions, based in Dallas and Westchester, Ill., respectively.


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