Car buyers urged to be wary of flood-damaged 'bargains'

Motorists are being urged to be wary of the financial and safety risks of buying a flood-damaged car with an apparently great value price.

In the wake of the storms and flooding that have hit the UK in recent weeks, car data and valuation specialist HPI is warning of unscrupulous dealers selling undeclared write-offs and of ignorant private owners selling on cars with hidden flood-related problems.

Many cars damaged in the recent flooding have been written off by insurers either because they are too badly damaged to make safe or because they are deemed uneconomical to repair.

For the latter write-offs - classed as category S or N - it is perfectly legal for professionals to buy, repair and then sell on these models but they must declare that the car has been previously written off.

However, HPI is warning that some dodgy dealers aren’t making this clear.

Flood damage can extend far beyond cosmetic problems (Photo: Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Fernando Garcia, consumer director at HPI said: “It’s not illegal to professionally repair and sell Category C and D [now called S and N] insurance write-off cars, but those that have been declared a Category A and B write-off are only good for the scrap heap or spares; they should never be returned to the roads. Unfortunately, fraudsters are willing to patch up and disguise written-off vehicles and sell them on to unsuspecting buyers.

“A flood-damaged vehicle that hasn't been appropriately repaired is likely to need engine components wholly replaced to ensure these parts work safely and correctly. Brakes, starter motors and catalytic converters can fail at any point and pose a risk to drivers, their passengers and pedestrians.”

As well dealers deliberately misleading buyers, HPI warns that some owners could be unknowingly selling cars with underlying problems. Drying out a flood-damaged car and having it professionally cleaned might make a car presentable for sale but it could leave potential mechanical and electrical problems unaddressed.

HPI’s used car flood damage check list

• Are the electrics fried? Check that the windows open and close.

• What’s that smell? Does the interior of the car smell damp or musty or is the seller trying to mask it with air freshener?

• Damp underfoot? Feel the foot wells to check that the carpet is dry and check if there is condensation on the inside of the windows.

• Is that rust? If there are signs of rust or corrosion, check that it matches the age of the car and the car’s mileage.

• Pop up the bonnet – Don’t forget to check under the bonnet for signs of damp or rust.

• Shine a light – Take the car for a test drive and check that the lights all work on the dashboard.

• It’s getting hot in here – Put the heating on – how quickly do the windows steam up?

• Check its history – Conduct a vehicle history check to find out if the car has previously been a write-off.

HPI also suggests that due to a growing number of flood-damaged cars that haven’t been subject to an insurance claim likely to make a return to the roads, buyers should get a mechanic to check for damage and expose any problems before an offer is made.

Even if there's no immediately obvious damage, cars affected by flooding can have hidden issues (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images)