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How to identify a car or other vehicle that has been flooded by storm waters, hurricanes, area flooding, or severe leaks. This article warns about the problems likely to ensue if you purchase and intend to drive a vehicle that has been inundated by flood waters. We list key inspection points that can help detect a previously-flooded car.
Reporting on the sale of formerly flood-damaged cars to people who may not recognize that a vehicle has been flooded or soaked sufficiently to make the vehicle potentially dangerous or even unsafe to occupy, the New York Times described cars damaged by flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
From that article and other sources, here are some clues that should warn anyone buying a used car that the vehicle may have been flooded: 
Check the vehicle title for flood-car branding. Cars or other vehicles that have been declared a total loss due to flooding bear a title indicating that the vehicle is a "flood car".
Check the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (vehiclehistory.gov)
Also check services such as CarFax (carfax.com) or AutoCHeck (autocheck.com) where that same information may be available. (These data bases are incomplete as not all flooded cars may be reported and registered.)
Watch out: a car may have been "title washed" by re-registering it in a state that does not carry-over flood-damage branding (such as Colorado or Vermont). A check of the car's title history may show that it was previously owned in a state where flooding occurred; often flooded cars are re-sold in other countries.
Check the vehicle identification numbers (VIN) to see that the numbers you can find all match, and that they match the title. VINs can be found inside the vehicle atop the dash at the base of the windshield on the driver's side, on the front of the engine block, at the front of the vehicle frame, usually near the window washer fluid container, inside the driver's side door jamb, beneath the spare tire. (Details about finding the VIN for a vehicle are at several websites including autocheck.com.)
Check for residues of mud, sewage, salt, debris in cracks and crevices of the vehicle such as inside hood or trunk stiffening members (through access holes), inside rear-view mirror bases, in the battery tray, underneath glove compartment or door pocket compartment liners, and inside of electrical connector covers.
Check for mold odors inside the vehicle. With the vehicle's windows and doors closed (the longer the closed-up interval the better) notice if the interior smells moldy. (Some use the incorrect term "mildew").
Also beware of cars whose interior smells stronly of bleach, perfumes, cleaners, or other chemicals that may have been used in an attempt to cover-up a mold odor. A car that was flooded by storm waters may also smell like sewage; Also be sure to run the vehicle's air conditioning and heating system and sniff for odors. Also see CAR MOLD CONTAMINATION.
Check for strong plastic or chemical odors inside the vehicle. In an article series beginning at OZONE MOLD / ODOR TREATMENT WARNINGS we explain that attempts to rid a car, boat, truck, camper or other vehicle of mold odors by over-dosing with ozone can actually oxidize plastics or other materials, causing strong plastic or chemical odors that can be cured only by complete removal of the damaged, oxidized contents.
Inspect the upholstery, head liner, carpeting for sagging, puckering;
Inspect carpets & headliners or door liners or for traces of mud and rust below floor carpets and padding; take a close whiff of floor carpeting.
Watch out: all-new carpeting in a car that should show some wear can also be a clue that the vehicle was flooded. Similarly, an all-new-looking headliner or door panels whose color does not exactly match other car interior upholstery orliners may indicate that those components were replaced after a car-flood.
Inspect interior trim and plastic components for signs of removal-replacement, such as screws whose head-slots have been gouged or damaged or missing, incomplete trim screws.
Look for moisture or condensation in headlights, tail lights, other vehicle lights
Look for unusual or non-working electrical components; test every electrical component or light on the vehicle; flood damage often leaves electrical components in disarray, not working, or incompletely or incorrectly replaced by hasty workers; lights that don't work or that are abnormally dim and LCD displays that are incompletre or have odd black or blank spots are examples; look closely at the various fuse containers for signs of discoloration, corrosion, or even for all-new fuses: signs of water intrusion and damage to the electrical system. Try pulling apart a few plug-connectors under the dash or in the engine compartment: inspect the connector for corrosion, dirt, mud, debris.
Look for salt corrosion on engine parts under the hood;
Check the engine oil for light brown froth after the engine has been run; water left in the crankcase from any source can cause this condition;
Ask for an independent, expert vehicle inspection either from a mechanic you know and trust, or from companies who provide that service. National as well as local automobile inspection companies offer on-site vehicle inspections that can easily pay for the inspection cost by helping avoid purchas of a car that turns out to be a money pit.
New Zealand: aa.co.nz
UK - car-inspections.co.uk ; dekra-expert.co.uk ; theaa.com
USA: automobileinspections.com - $350 ; carchex.com - $120 or more; also look for individual companies operating in your state, such as falconworks.net in southern Arizon
Look for and trace the source of water leaks into the vehicle
It is essential to find and cure the cause of a moldy smell in a vehicle - otherwise the entire diagnostic, cleaning, and testing process will be wasted.
In the moldy car case used as an example in this article, a water leak at the front passenger side windshield pillar was sending water down inside the pillar into the area behind and under the dash board on the passenger side, ultimately onto the passenger side floor.
The car's owners first noticed the leak problem as a wet floor mat. On exploring they found that carpeting below the floor mat was still more wet. This meant trouble.
In our photo (above left) the author points to the very origin of the roof and windshield pillar leak on the car's passenger side.
The dealer was able to trace the leak to its source, and the leak was repaired. But the moldy smell remained.
At left we are taking a look at the carpet and carpet padding in this same vehicle.
Carpeting, seats, sound insulation, head liners, door liners, or other vehicle materials that have actually been soaked and that smell moldy need to be removed and disposed-of, and the exposed surfaces of the vehicle cleaned using conventional cleaners (soap and water would be fine).
Our photo (above left) shows the primary smell reservoir in this mold-stinky car: the carpet padding and sound insulation material. A topic of considerable discussion was just how much of this padding to remove.
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 "Health effects of a mold-contaminated automobile", J. Santilli, W. Rockwell, W. Vaughn, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Volume 113, Issue 2, Page S59. Quoting abstract: Most reactions to indoor mold exposure have been reported from mold-contaminated homes, office buildings or schools. We report a patient who experienced symptoms from exposure to a contaminated air-conditioner in her automobile. ...
This case demonstrates that we should be testing work environments, homes and schools for mold contamination and must now add automobiles to our testing regimen where indicated.
 "Mold contamination of automobile air conditioner systems", Kumar P, Lopez M, Fan W, Cambre K, Elston RC., Ann Allergy. 1990 Feb; 64(2 Pt 1):174-7. Department of Medicine, Louisiana State University Medical Center, New Orleans. Abstract: Eight cars belonging to patients who were found to have exacerbation of allergic rhinitis and bronchial asthma after turning on the air conditioner in their cars were examined ...Furthermore, placement of a filter at the portal of entry of outside air significantly reduced the mold concentration in the passenger compartment.
 ASTM E2600 - 08 Standard Practice for Assessment of Vapor Intrusion into Structures on Property Involved in Real Estate Transactions is available from the ASTM at astm.org/Standards/E2600.htm
"This practice is intended for use on a voluntary basis by parties who wish to conduct a VIA on a parcel of real estate, or more specifically conduct a screening evaluation to determine whether or not there is potential for a VIC, and if so, identify alternatives for further investigation."
The standard goes on to emphasize the uncertainty in testing any site for gases and vapor intrusion.
 "Shaky Seats, Leaky Fluids, Toyota" Scott Sturgis, The New York Times, 01/24/2010, Automobiles section, p. 4.
 Thanks to B.L., Poughkeepsie, NY, for discussion of the cause and cure of moldy car smells and permission to take and use photos of the family's moldy car during its mold deodorizing procedure, 2009.
 Thanks to M.R.
for discussing an ineffective attempt at deodorizing a smelly car - November 2010
 Darah Maslin Nir, "Dried Out and Title-Scrubbed, Flooded Cars Lure the Unwary", The New York Times, 13 January 2013, p. 1
 Andy Gieseke, Canyon Auto Sales, 3500 N. 1st Ave., Tucson AZ 85719, Tel: 520-293-3324
Ozone Odors & Ozone "deodorizers": The Use of Ozone Generators Indoors for Control of Odors and Mold Removal in Buildings: A Summary of Hazards and False Claims.
Ozone is widely promoted by ozone generating equipment companies and cleaning services for use in indoor building environments to deodorize, disinfect, "kill" mold, and for "general health".
This article explains the effects of using ozone in buildings for these purposes and warns consumers about misapplication of and health risks from ozone in buildings. Because at least some of these claims are based on marketing desire, not good science, and because ozone exposure can be both dangerous and ineffective indoors, we have collected some information and references on this topic.
Ozone generators: The Hazards of Ozone & Ozone Gas Generators. This article gives an overview of the hazards associated with use of ozone indoors as a "mold remedy" or as an "air purifier". Ozone is widely promoted by ozone generating equipment companies and cleaning services for use in indoor building environments to deodorize, disinfect, "kill" mold, and for "general health".
Ozone Toxicity & Ozone Gas Exposure Hazards This article discusses Ozone Toxicity in Buildings - A Summary of Hazards of Indoor Ozone, Ozone Generators, and Use of Ozone for Mold Remediation. While there are some important uses of ozone (such as for medical disinfection under controlled conditions), in general this is an idea which ranges from bad to dangerous in the home. This article explains the effects of using ozone in buildings for these purposes and warns consumers about misapplication of and health risks from ozone in buildings. Because at least some of these claims are based on marketing desire, not good science, and because ozone exposure can be both dangerous and ineffective indoors, we have collected some information and references on this topic.
Plastic odors: Plastic Odors, including Siding Odors. This discussion also pertains to other vinyl or plastic materials used in buildings such as diagnosing odors from plastic trim, plastic or vinyl windows, window screens, doors, or similar materials. This article includes a plastic odor diagnosis checklist and it lists common sources of plastic-like smells in buildings.
MVOC Testing Standard: As of 3 March 2009 the ASTM Committee E50 on Environmental Assessment, Risk Management and
released ASTM E2600-08 Standard Practice for Assessment of
Vapor Intrusion into Structures on Property Involved in Real Estate
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
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