RICHMOND – The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reminds consumers to conduct a water-damage inspection before buying used or new vehicles. The dangers of water-damaged cars are often hidden.

Aside from mold and rust, electrical systems could erode and fail over time. Computer sensors could be damaged, and safety protections like air bags could fail in a crash.

“Storms throughout the year can produce flooding, which in turn can lead to water-damaged cars in Virginia. Plus, the potential exists for damaged out-of-state cars to find their way to the Commonwealth,” said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb. “I caution Virginia consumers to check for water damage when purchasing any new or used vehicle.”

Various state laws require water damage to be reported and disclosed on a vehicle’s title; however, dishonest sellers can find ways around these requirements, putting buyers at risk.

If a vehicle is branded as non-repairable, the vehicle cannot be titled in Virginia, but a non-repairable car could be titled in another state.

If a Virginian then purchased that car and tried to title it in Virginia, the vehicle’s history would show non-repairable, and the customer would not be able to title that car.

Virginia Code § 46.2-624 requires insurance companies to report to DMV when they have paid a claim of $3,500 or more on a vehicle due to water damage. Insurers are required to notify DMV of such damage, even if the owner intends to retain ownership and continue driving the vehicle.

One tool customers can use to check a vehicle’s history is DMV’s Prospective Purchaser Inquiry.

Prior to purchase, you provide the vehicle’s make, model and vehicle identification number and DMV produces a PPI summary about the vehicle.

The summary comes from Virginia DMV records only and does not contain personal information about the vehicle’s previous owners.

The fee for the service is $12 per vehicle, and is available online or by visiting a DMV office.

Other inspection tips that may help detect significant water damage include:

• Examine the interior and the engine compartment for evidence of water and grit from suspected submersion.

• Check for recently shampooed carpet, and look under the floorboard carpet for water residue or stain marks not related to air-conditioning pan leaks.

• Look for rust on the inside and under interior carpeting, and inspect all interior upholstery and door panels.

• Check under the dashboard for dried mud and residue, and note any evidence of mold or a musty odor in the upholstery, carpet or trunk.

• Check for rust on screws in the console or other areas where water would normally not reach.

• Check for mud or grit in alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses and around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.

• Complete a detailed inspection of the electrical wiring system, looking for rusted components, water residue or suspicious corrosion.

• Inspect the undercarriage or other components for evidence of rust and flaking metal that would not normally be associated with late model vehicles.

While these suggestions will not detect flood damage in every case, they provide some information to protect consumers from purchasing a vehicle damaged by floodwaters. It’s also best to have it inspected by a licensed mechanic.