RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A lot of destruction from hurricanes cannot be undone, but sometimes it can be salvaged. Take cars, for example. About a million vehicles have already been damaged this hurricane season, many of them beyond repair. But some will eventually end up back at dealerships ready to be sold. NPR's Sonari Glinton explains.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: You only need to stop by your local mechanic to realize just how bad water is for the modern car.
STEVE BECK: It's basically like throwing your TV in the bathtub and then trying to plug it in two hours later. There's just a lot of electronics that are all destroyed by water and contamination that just renders the cars useless.
GLINTON: So what makes you such an expert?
BECK: Well, I'm the co-owner of Checkpoint Automotive. My name's Steve Beck, and I've been a mechanic for about 45 years.
GLINTON: Beck's job is fixing modern BMWs. His passion, though, is restoring early Fords.
BECK: It's kind of like a grease-monkey Camelot here. I get to work on the modern cars and I get to work on the old cars.
GLINTON: Beck says if a 1920 Model T is submerged in water, he can probably make it run. But modern cars are much harder to salvage.
BECK: Virtually every system in the car would have to be replaced. You hunt around the junkyards, and you hope you fix it all. I mean, I've done some of these cars. They're never quite the same. They're never right.
JOHN NIELSON: Many people may think that flood-damaged cars are just a Texas problem or, unfortunately, a Florida problem right now, but the truth is is that flood damage can happen in many different ways.
GLINTON: Before I came to the shop, I talked to John Nielsen with AAA. He says used-car buyers should check for flood damage regardless of their state or the season.
NIELSON: Does it smell funny? Mold has a very distinct odor. Take your finger and run it up under the dash or just look for silt. A sign of flooding is a very, very fine silt in the car, and it's almost impossible to get it all out.
GLINTON: Now, about three-quarters of car owners have comprehensive insurance which covers flood damage. Most of those cars are salvaged for parts and then totaled. Chris Basso with Carfax says it's those without insurance who are likely to try to salvage whatever they can.
CHRIS BASSO: They're going to try to salvage any value that they can out of them since they're not getting any money from the insurance company. So those cars are going to be cleaned up quickly, dried out and resold to people within potentially a few days or within a couple weeks of the floodwaters receding.
GLINTON: Basso says the overwhelming majority of cars that are or were damaged will be properly processed by insurance companies and make their way to the junkyards and salvage auctions. He says there are free databases like the one on Carfax that lists those cars.
BASSO: Historically, about 50 percent of all the vehicles damaged do make their way back onto the market in some form or another. There's also 325,000 vehicles that are on the road right now from storms that have happened in years past that people are driving every day.
GLINTON: And sadly, there's likely many more to come. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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