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AA warns of used car flood damage

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AA Insurance has warned that the used car market could be overrun with flood-damaged cars following the extreme weather of recent weeks. 

Estimating that insurers could be facing claims for up to £14 million for cars written-off by recent weather, the broker says that cars which have been immersed in water may seem undamaged but can store up potentially fatal faults.

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance says he is concerned that while insurers go to efforts to dispose of flood-damaged cars and ensure that they don’t reach the open market, many others might find their way on to the used car market. 

“Catalytic converter and exhaust system life can be seriously reduced, wheel bearings could seize, brakes can be affected and alternator and starter motors could fail,” he points out.  “In addition, water can seriously affect electrical and electronic systems including the airbags, which might go off unexpectedly – or not deploy when they should.”

Douglas notes that an AA Patrol was recently called to assist with a car that had been immersed in flood water.  Leaning in to the car, the airbag went off without warning, breaking the patrol’s arm.

Douglas believes some owners whose vehicles once dried out may appear not to have been seriously damaged by water could simply sell their cars on without making an insurance claim. 

“Buyers should beware from buying from private vendors as they may have no come-back when problems emerge maybe after some weeks,” he says.

AA has offers some steps to help identify cars offered for sale that might have been involved in floods:

Tips to spot a flood-damaged car

  • If a used car has the windows left open it may be to let out the smell of damp.  Feel the carpets – and if the interior smells of air-freshener, it may be hiding something worse!  Check for water in the spare tyre well.
  • If the inside of the windows are seriously running with condensation, there is moisture inside the car – misted windows are usually OK.
  • Take the oil filler cap off and check underneath the cap.  If there is a whitish, mayonnaise-like deposit (emulsified oil) under the cap, there is water in the engine.
  • Start the engine and turn the heater blower on to the windscreen.  If the glass immediately steams up and takes a long time to clear, there is moisture in the system.  The air may also have an unpleasant odour.  Modest misting could be the pollen filter being damp or filter drain blocked, get that checked.
  • Check to see if air bag warning light works.  The system does a self-check when you switch on the ignition.  The light should go off after a few seconds. If the light doesn’t come on or doesn’t go off, there is a fault.  If the air bag electronics have been submerged they may fail when needed or go off unexpectedly while driving.
  • See if there is water trapped in the car light housings (rock the car and if water is present, you’ll see water moving within the red rear filter)
  • If the car is simply a category C insurance write-off (rather than a category A or B which means the car is too dangerous to be allowed back on the road) this should be recorded on the V5C registration document.

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