5 ways to spot finer points of potentially weather-damaged vehicles

AUSTIN, Texas - 

An auction operator who likely saw at least some of the rain from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma spelled out his five points to consider as the industry watches for flood-damaged vehicles.

Chris Tomchay, co-founder and chief operating officer of The Appraisal Lane and co-owner of the Georgia-Carolina Auto Auction, shared his five thoughts as estimates approach 1 million units being impacted by the consecutive Category 4 hurricanes to touch the U.S.

“Apart from the basics, there are other telltale signs that dealers and private parties should pay attention to when it comes to signs of hurricane-related damage,” said Tomchay, whose auction is located 70 miles northeast of Atlanta. “Information is power, so arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible to avoid getting burned on the bottom line.”

Here are Tomchay’s five additional tips:

1. A clean history report doesn’t always mean a clean vehicle.

With widespread hurricane damage in Florida and Texas in recent months, and with Tropical Storm Nate now bearing down on the Gulf Coast, Tomchay explained that it’s important to note that dealers can’t always trust a clean vehicle history report.

“Sometimes there is lag time in the reporting of flood damaged cars to vehicle history reporting organizations. Even 60 or 90 days, at this juncture, is enough time for a vehicle that would otherwise been deemed as ‘salvage’ or ‘totaled’ to be sold to an unsuspecting buyer,” he said.

2. There’s a big difference between salt water and fresh water damage.

While fresh water submersion means damp upholstery or wet engine components that could ultimately be dried and restored, Tomchay pointed out salt water damage is something altogether different.

“Salt causes significant corrosion which, in the long run, can cause big problems to the major components of a car, including the steering and electrical systems, the transmission, the undercarriage, the fuel system, the body panels, and much more,” Tomchay said.

He added that while some waterlogged vehicles with minor damage can represent a good value, it’s important to know the type of water that caused the damage.

3. Flood damaged vehicles can break the bank — but they can also come at a value.

Tomchay acknowledged that certain flood damaged vehicles represent a value depending on the extent and type of damage.

“I’m all for buying a car at  ($0.50) on the dollar if it was submerged to the floor in fresh water, or purchasing a vehicle for ($0.75)  on the dollar if it was stranded on a ship in a salt water port and the manufacturer merely voided the exterior paint warranty,” he said. “It really depends on the situation.”

4. Beware of out-of-state registrations.

If a vehicle that is registered in a known hurricane-havocked region suddenly shows up for sale in your Northeast or Midwest market, Tomchay recommended that dealers should be extra diligent — particularly now.

“Take a little extra time to evaluate the vehicle using The Appraisal Lane’s SMART tips,” he said. “It could wind up saving you thousands of dollars in the end.”

5. Flood damage isn’t the only hurricane damage.

Tomchay also mentioned small sized hail on a light colored exterior could go unnoticed, as could sand blasting from high winds.

“Be sure to closely inspect a car’s exterior in proper lighting, preferably in sunlight and from various angles,” he said. “If you’re still unsure, solicit an inspection from a qualified body repair shop.”

Tomchay concludes that if dealers are still uncertain when it comes to evaluating a potential hurricane damaged vehicle, or off-brand/one-off inventory, a community approach to appraisals is best — one that connects you with expert appraisers in real time, backed by cash offers.

“Evaluating vehicles based on the law of averages is particularly risky, not to mention trying to evaluate vehicles that may have been damaged during this volatile hurricane season,” he said.

The Appraisal Lane — a Silver Sponsor at  which begins on Nov. 13 in Palm Springs, Calif. — consists of vehicle appraisers whose singular responsibility is to evaluate thousands of vehicles each month across all makes and models. The company’s mobile app can connect dealers with a larger community of appraisers and buyers to receive real time cash offers on inventory.

For dealers interested in more information about The Appraisal Lane, visit or send a message to [email protected]

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