Flood awareness week: How to spot a flood-damaged car

In honor of National Flood Safety Awareness Week, here are some pointers on spotting a flood-damaged car:

-Smell. Particularly here in the rainy Pacific Northwest, it's very hard to dry out a flooded car quickly enough to prevent mold and mildew in the carpets, padding below the carpets, and the upholstery.

-Moisture in odd places inside the car. For example, look for moisture or condensation behind the gauges on the dashboard, a clock, and the display panel of a stereo. (Note: It's fairly common in the Northwest to see water or condensation in exterior lights, like taillights, turn signal lights, etc. in older vehicles. That's not necessarily a sign of flooding. Rain may have just seeped in through the gaskets that are supposed to seal the lights.)

-Check the car's unique Vehicle Identification Number to see if it has been reported as a salvage vehicle. These numbers are typically found on a small metal plate visible through the front windshield at the front of the dashboard. The National Insurance Crime Bureau runs a website where you can check VIN numbers -- up to 5 a day -- for free. (Hint: it's case-sensitive.)

-Dampness, mold, silt, mud or rust in low spots on the vehicle, such as under the spare tire in the trunk, the interior crevices of the trunk behind the wheels or in the glove compartment.

-Interior rust, such as springs under the seats.

-Check the car's oil. Engine oil contaminated with water will often look like chocolate milk.

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