Hurricane Ian’s massive storm surge devastated parts of Florida’s West Coast. But people in South Florida could also become victims of that flooding. Karen Hensel explains in tonight’s 7 Investigates.

Hurricane Ian’s massive storm surge and relentless rain swamped cars in Southwest Florida.

Ben Levy, mechanic: “Those vehicles are permanently damaged.”

Permanently damaged but not all are permanently off the road.

Emilie Voss, CARFAX: “Just because of the proximity to where Hurricane Ian hit, I have not a doubt that these vehicles will end up in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area.”

Vehicle history company CARFAX estimates as many as 358,000 cars — from Florida to the Carolinas — have flood damage from Ian.

Emilie Voss: “Now, not all of those vehicles will end up back on the road, but if history shows us anything, we know that a good chunk of them will.”

And unknowingly buying one of these cars could lead to a flood of trouble.

Emilie Voss: “They might run fine today, but tomorrow there could be problems because they are literally rotting from the inside out.”

Wales Garage owner Ben Levy says there are warning signs that a car has been submerged.

Ben Levy: “If this thing had been in deep salt water, within six months to a year — that’s going to be heavily rusted.”

Check inside the trunk.

Ben Levy: “What we’d be looking for is sediment buildup in the spare tire well. This would be a good sign the vehicle has been underwater.”

…and under the hood.

Ben Levy: “We would be looking at hard components like the tops of bolts and unfinished materials for rust. Rust is going to be your big factor. You’re going to see surface rust in components you shouldn’t ever see surface rust on.”

Levy says it’s a good idea to have a trusted mechanic look over a used car before you buy it.

Ben Levy: “Flood car is going to show a lot of dirt, a lot of debris. When you go past the carpeting — nobody is going to look underneath there — but you can see it’s clean.”

And it’s not just seeing — but smelling that could give you an indication a car has been flooded. Experts say a musty odor is a telltale sign — but so can an interior that smells too good.

Emilie Voss: “That should raise a red flag, too, because what are they trying to cover up?”

CARFAX ranks Florida second in the country with the most flood damaged cars on the road even “before” Hurricane Ian.

Almost half of those are in South Florida, many bought at salvage auctions.

Emilie Voss: “What happens, though, is con men go to these auctions, they buy these vehicles, they clean them up and then they resell them without disclosing, and that’s what’s key here.”

They can then end up for sale online, on sites like Craigslist and Facebook marketplace.

Ben Levy: “To do something dishonest, distasteful is just infuriating.”

Infuriating — but avoidable.

Any sign a car is waterlogged — move on.

For more information on flooded cars, click here.

To check for flood damage on a vehicle’s title, visit these links:

Karen Hensel, 7News.


Copyright 2022 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox