ONALASKA, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Hurricane Sandy left tens of thousands of east coast cars with severe water damage.
The Department of Transportation is now warning Wisconsin car buyers there's a chance those flood-damaged vehicles could show up at local car dealerships based on past experience with Hurricane Katrina.
With every used car that comes through Brenengen Chevrolet of La Crosse and Onalaska, Jason Ruhbusch conducts a routine check.
"Looking for any kind of flood damage you might see mud inside, you know, where the air cleaner goes… (If) it's been sitting in water, basically the soot is going to collect in these areas," said Ruhbusch, a GM World Class Technician, as he points out crevices under the hood of the car.
Basic dirt and rust under a car may be much more than standard wear-and-tear, Ruhbusch said.
"A lot of corrosion or maybe a level where half of it's corroded, that's a sign it could be sitting in water," Ruhbusch said, while examining the bottom of a vehicle. "You'll want to look up in the high frame areas, you know, there might be a lot of dirt sitting up in these crevices and if it's really packed in there, that's another sign."
Even before a used car is brought into Brenengen Chevrolet, owner Don Brenengen makes sure an initial search sifts out any questionable vehicles.
"We buy it from known sources that do checks. The odds of getting one of those are much more limited," Brenengen said. "And then we do our own check when the car gets here, of course."
Even if a car is cleaned cosmetically, there could be internal flood damage underneath the surface.
"If you were to take one of the connectors underneath the carpeting or behind one of these panels and you take it apart, there will be a lot of corrosion in it, it will look green," Ruhbusch said.
But before buyers close the deal on a used car, Brenengen said they're checked so thoroughly a flooded one is unlikely to soak through.
"You got a few different firewalls, we might as well say, where that stuff 99-and-nine-tenths of the time will get caught," Brenengen said.
Before you purchase a used vehicle, it's important to check the Vehicle Identification Number.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the VIN is essentially a fingerprint for the car, which shows up on insurance, body shop records, accident reports, among other documentation.
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